Part 5 out of 6
She is silent. She is seeking the supreme complaint; she is trying to
find what there is which is more torturing and more simple; and she
The truth is that the love of mankind is a single season among so many
others. The truth is that we have within us something much more mortal
than we are, and that it is this, all the same, which is all-important.
Therefore we survive very much longer than we live. There are things
we think we know and which yet are secrets. Do we really know what we
believe? We believe in miracles. We make great efforts to struggle,
to go mad. We should like to let all our good deserts be seen. We
fancy that we are exceptions and that something supernatural is going
to come along. But the quiet peace of the truth fixes us. The
impossible becomes again the impossible. We are as silent as silence
We stayed lonely on the seat until evening. Our hands and faces shone
like gleams of storm in the entombment of the calm and the mist.
We go back home. We wait and then have dinner. We live these few
hours. And we see ourselves alone in the house, facing each other, as
never we saw ourselves, and we do not know what to do! It is a real
drama of vacancy which is breaking loose. We are living together; our
movements are in harmony, they touch and mingle. But all of it is
empty. We do not long for each other, we can no longer expect each
other, we have no dreams, we are not happy. It is a sort of imitation
of life by phantoms, by beings who, in the distance are beings, but
close by--so close--are phantoms!
Then bedtime comes. She is sleeping in the little bedroom opposite
mine across the landing, less fine than mine and smaller, hung with an
old and faded paper, where the patterned flowers are only an irregular
relief, with traces here and there of powder, of colored dust and
We are going to separate on the landing. To-day is not the first time
like that! but to-day we are feeling this great rending which is not
one. She has begun to undress. She has taken off her blouse. I see
her neck and her breasts, a little less firm than before, through her
chemise; and half tumbling on to the nape of her neck, the fair hair
which once magnificently flamed on her like a fire of straw.
She only says, "It's better to be a man than a woman."
Then she replies to my silence, "You see, we don't know what to say,
In the angle of the narrow doorway she spoke with a kind of immensity.
She goes into her room and disappears. Before I went to the war we
slept in the same bed. We used to lie down side by side, so as to be
annihilated in unconsciousness, or to go and dream somewhere else.
(Commonplace life has shipwrecks worse than in Shakespearean dramas.
For man and wife--to sleep, to die.) But since I came back we separate
ourselves with a wall. This sincerity that I have brought back in my
eyes and mind has changed the semblances round about me into reality,
more than I imagine. Marie is hiding from me her faded but disregarded
body. Her modesty has begun again; yes, she has ended by beginning
She has shut her door. She is undressing, alone in her room, slowly,
and as if uselessly. There is only the light of her little lamp to
caress her loosened hair, in which the others cannot yet see the white
ones, the frosty hairs that she alone touches.
Her door is shut, decisive, banal, dreary.
Among some papers on my table I see the poem again which we once found
out of doors, the bit of paper escaped from the mysterious hands which
wrote on it, and come to the stone seat. It ended by whispering, "Only
I know the tears that brimming rise, your beauty blended with your
smile to espy."
In the days of yore it had made us smile with delight. To-night there
are real tears in my eyes. What is it? I dimly see that there is
something more than what we have seen, than what we have said, than
what we have felt to-day. One day, perhaps, she and I will exchange
better and richer sayings; and so, in that day, all the sadness will be
of some service.
I have been to the factory. I felt as much lost as if I had found
myself translated there after a sleep of legendary length. There are
many new faces. The factory has tripled--quadrupled in importance;
quite a town of flimsy buildings has been added to it.
"They've built seven others like it in three months!" says Monsieur
Mielvaque to me, proudly.
The manager is now another young nephew of the Messrs. Gozlan. He was
living in Paris and came back on the day of the general mobilization.
Old Monsieur Gozlan looks after everything.
I have a month to wait. I wait slowly, as everybody does. The houses
in the lower town are peopled by absentees. When you go in they talk
to you about the last letter, and always make the same huge and barren
reflections on the war. In my street there are twelve houses where the
people no longer await anything and have nothing to say, like Madame
Marcassin. In some others, the one who has disappeared will perhaps
come back; and they go about in them in a sort of hope which leans only
on emptiness and silence. There are women who have begun their lives
again in a kind of happy misery. The places near them of the dead or
the living they have filled up.
The main streets have not changed, any more than the squares, except
the one which is encrusted with a collection of huts. The life in them
is as bustling as ever, and of brighter color, and more amusing. Many
young men, rich or influential, are passing their wartime in the
offices of the depot, of the Exchange, of Food Control, of Enlistment,
of the Pay Department, and other administrations whose names one cannot
remember. The priests are swarming in the two hospitals; on the faces
of orderlies, cyclist messengers, doorkeepers and porters you can read
their origin. For myself, I have never seen a parson in the front
lines wearing the uniform of the ordinary fighting soldier, the uniform
of those who make up the fatigue parties and fight as well against
My thought turns to what the man once said to me who was by me among
the straw of a stable, "Why is there no more justice?" By the little
that I know and have seen and am seeing, I can tell what an enormous
rush sprang up, at the same time as the war, against the equality of
the living. And if that injustice, which was turning the heroism of
the others into a cheat has not been openly extended, it is because the
war has lasted too long, and the scandal became so glaring that they
were forced to look into it. It seems that it is only through fear
that they have ended by deciding so much.
* * * * * *
I go into Fontan's. Crillon is with me--I picked him up from the
little glass cupboard of his shop as I came out. He is finding it
harder and harder to keep going; he has aged a lot, and his frame, so
powerfully bolted together, cracks with rheumatism.
We sit down. Crillon groans and bends so low in his hand-to-hand
struggle with the pains which beset him that I think his forehead is
going to strike the marble-topped table.
He tells me in detail of his little business, which is going badly, and
how he has confused glimpses of the bare and empty future which awaits
him--when a sergeant with a fair mustache and eyeglasses makes his
entry. This personage, whose collar shows white thunderbolts,
instead of a number, comes and sits near us. He orders a port wine and
Victorine serves it with a smile. She smiles at random, and
indistinctly, at all the men, like Nature.
[Footnote 1: Distinctive badge for Staff officers and others.--Tr.]
The newcomer takes off his cap, looks at the windows and yawns. "I'm
bored," he says.
He comes nearer and freely offers us his talk. He sets himself
chattering with spirited and easy grace, of men and things. He works
at the Town Hall and knows a lot of secrets which he lets us into. He
points to a couple of sippers at a table in the corner reserved for
commercial people. "The grocer and the ironmonger," he says, "there's
two that know how to go about it! At the beginning of the war there
was a business crisis by the force of things, and they had to tighten
their belts like the rest. Then they got their revenge and swept the
dibs in and hoarded stuff up, and speculated, and they're still
revenging themselves. You should see the stocks of goods they sit on
in their cellars and wait for the rises that the newspapers foretell!
They've got one excuse, it's true--there are others, bigger people,
that are worse. Ah, you can say that the business people will have
given a rich notion of their patriotism during the war!"
The fair young man stretches himself backward to his full length, with
his heels together on the ground, his arms rigid on the table, and
opens his mouth with all his might and for a long time. Then he goes
on in a loud voice, careless who hears him, "Why, I saw the other day,
at the Town Hall, piles of the Declarations of Profits, required by the
Treasury. I don't know, of course, for I've not read them, but I'm as
sure and certain as you are that all those innumerable piles of
declarations are just so many columns of cod and humbug and lies!"
Intelligent and inexhaustible, accurately posted through the clerk's
job in which he is sheltering, the sergeant relates with careless
gestures his stories of scandals and huge profiteering, "while our good
fellows are fighting." He talks and talks, and concludes by saying
that after all _he_ doesn't care a damn as long as they let him alone.
Monsieur Fontan is in the café. A woman leads up to him a tottering
being whom she introduces to him. "He's ill, Monsieur Fontan, because
he hasn't had enough to eat."
"Well now! And I'm ill, too," says Fontan jovially, "but it's because
I eat too much."
The sergeant takes his leave, touching us with a slight salute. "He's
right, that smart gentleman," says Crillon to me. "It's always been
like that, and it will always be like that, you know!"
Aloof, I keep silence. I am still tired and stunned by all these
sayings in the little time since I remained so long without hearing
anything but myself. But I am sure they are all true, and that
patriotism is only a word or a tool for many. And feeling the rags of
the common soldier still on me, I knit my brows and realize that it is
a disgrace and a shame for the poor to be deceived as they are.
Crillon is smiling, as always! On his huge face, where every passing
day now leaves some marks, on his round-eyed weakened face with its
mouth opened like a cypher, the old smile of yore is spread out. I
used to think then that resignation was a virtue; I see now that it is
a vice. The optimist is the permanent accomplice of all evil-doers.
This passive smile which I admired but lately--I find it despicable on
this poor face.
* * * * * *
The café has filled up with workmen, either old or very young, from the
town and the country, but chiefly the country.
What are they doing, these lowly, these ill-paid? They are dirty and
they are drinking. They are dark, although it is the forenoon, because
they are dirty. In the light there is that obscurity which they carry
on them; and a bad smell removes itself with them.
I see three convalescent soldiers from the hospital join the plebeian
groups; they are recognized by their coarse clothes, their caps and big
boots, and because their gestures are soldered together and conform to
a common movement.
By force of "glasses all round," these drinkers begin to talk in loud
voices; they get excited and shout at random; and in the end they drop
visibly into unconsciousness, into oblivion, into defeat.
The wine-merchant is at his cash desk, which shines like silver. He
stands behind the center of it, colorless, motionless, like a bust on a
pedestal. His bare arms hang down, pallid as his face. He comes and
wipes away some spilled wine, and his hands shine and drip, like a
* * * * * *
"I'm forgetting to tell you," cried Crillon, "that they had news of
your regiment a few days ago. Little Mélusson's had his head blown to
bits in an attack. Here, y'know; he was a softy and an idler. Well,
he was attacking like a devil. War remakes men like that!"
"Termite?" I asked.
"Ah, yes! Termite the poacher! Why it's a long time since they
haven't seen him. Disappeared, it seems. S'pose he's killed."
Then he talks to me of this place. Brisbille, for instance, always the
same, a Socialist and a scandal.
"There's him," says Crillon, "and that dangerous chap Eudo as well,
with his notorient civilities. Would you believe it, they've not been
able to pinch him for his spying proclensities! Nothing in his past
life, nothing in his conductions, nothing in his expensiture, nothing
to find fault with. Mustn't he be a deep one?"
I presume to think--suppose it was all untrue? Yet it seemed a
formidable task to upset on the spot one of the oldest and most deeply
rooted creeds in our town. But I risk it. "Perhaps he's innocent."
Crillon jumps, and shouts, "What! You suspect him of being innocent!"
His face is convulsed and he explodes with an enormous laugh, a laugh
irresistible as a tidal wave, the laugh of all!
"Talking about Termite," says Crillon a moment later, "it seems it
wasn't him that did the poaching."
The military convalescents are leaving the tavern. Crillon watches
them go away with their parallel movements and their sticks.
"Yes, there's wounded here and there's dead there!" he says; "all those
who hadn't got a privilential situation! Ah, la, la! The poor devils,
when you think of it, eh, what they must have suffered! And at this
moment, all the time, there's some dying. And we stand it very well,
an' hardly think of it. They didn't need to kill so many, that's
certain--there's been faults and blunders, as everybody knows of. But
fortunately," he adds, with animation, putting on my shoulder the hand
that is big as a young animal, "the soldiers' deaths and the chief's
blunders, that'll all disappear one fine day, melted away and forgotten
in the glory of the victorious Commander!"
* * * * * *
There has been much talk in our quarter of a Memorial Festival.
I am not anxious to be present and I watch Marie set off. Then I feel
myself impelled to go there, as if it were a duty.
I cross the bridge. I stop at the corner of the Old Road, on the edge
of the fields. Two steps away there is the cemetery, which is hardly
growing, since nearly all those who die now are not anywhere.
I lift my eyes and take in the whole spectacle together. The hill
which rises in front of me is full of people. It trembles like a swarm
of bees. Up above, on the avenue of trimmed limetrees, it is crowned
by the sunshine and by the red platform, which scintillates with the
richness of dresses and uniforms and musical instruments.
Then there is a red barrier. On this side of that barrier, lower down,
the public swarms and rustles.
I recognize the great picture of the past. I remember this ceremony,
spacious as a season, which has been regularly staged here so many
times in the course of my childhood and youth, and with almost the same
rites and forms. It was like this last year, and the other years, and
a century ago and centuries since.
Near me an old peasant in sabots is planted. Rags, shapeless and
colorless--the color of time--cover the eternal man of the fields. He
is what he always was. He blinks, leaning on a stick; he holds his cap
in his hand because what he sees is so like a church service. His legs
are trembling; he wonders if he ought to be kneeling.
And I, I feel myself diminished, cut back, returned through the cycles
of time to the little that I am.
* * * * * *
Up there, borne by the flag-draped rostrum, a man is speaking. He
lifts a sculptural head aloft, whose hair is white as marble.
At my distance I can hardly hear him. But the wind carries me some
phrases, louder shouted, of his peroration. He is preaching
resignation to the people, and the continuance of things. He implores
them to abandon finally the accursed war of classes, to devote
themselves forever to the blessed war of races in all its shapes.
After the war there must be no more social utopias, but discipline
instead, whose grandeur and beauty the war has happily revealed, the
union of rich and poor for national expansion and the victory of France
in the world, and sacred hatred of the Germans, which is a virtue in
the French. Let us remember!
Then another orator excites himself and shouts that the war has been
such a magnificent harvest of heroism that it must not be regretted.
It has been a good thing for France; it has made lofty virtues and
noble instincts gush forth from a nation which seemed to be decadent.
Our people had need of an awakening and to recover themselves, and
acquire new vigor. With metaphors which hover and vibrate he proclaims
the glory of killing and being killed, he exalts the ancient passion
for plumes and scarlet in which the heart of France is molded.
Alone on the edge of the crowd I feel myself go icy by the touch of
these words and commands, which link future and past together and
misery to misery. I have already heard them resounding forever. A
world of thoughts growls confusedly within me. Once I cried
noiselessly, "No!"--a deformed cry, a strangled protest of all my faith
against all the fallacy which comes down upon us. That first cry which
I have risked among men, I cast almost as a visionary, but almost as a
dumb man. The old peasant did not even turn his earthy, gigantic head.
And I hear a roar of applause go by, of popular expanse.
I go up to join Marie, mingling with the crowd; I divide serried knots
of them. Suddenly there is profound silence, and every one stands
immovable. Up there the Bishop is on his feet. He raises his
forefinger and says, "The dead are not dead. They are rewarded in
heaven; but even here on earth they are alive. They keep watch in our
hearts, eternally preserved from oblivion. Theirs is the immortality
of glory and gratitude. They are not dead, and we should envy them
more than pity."
And he blesses the audience, all of whom bow or kneel. I remained
upright, stubbornly, with clenched teeth. And I remember things, and I
say to myself, "Have the dead died for nothing? If the world is to
stay as it is, then--yes!"
Several men did not bend their backs at first, and then they obeyed the
general movement; and I felt on my shoulders all the heavy weight of
the whole bowing multitude.
Monsieur Joseph Bonéas is talking within a circle. Seeing him again I
also feel for one second the fascination he once had for me. He is
wearing an officer's uniform of the Town Guard, and his collar hides
the ravages in his neck. He is holding forth. What says he? He says,
"We must take the long view."
"We must take the long view. For my part, the only thing I admire in
militarist Prussia is its military organization. After the war--for we
must not limit our outlook to the present conflict--we must take
lessons from it, and just let the simple-minded humanitarians go on
bleating about universal peace."
He goes on to say that in his opinion the orators did not sufficiently
insist on the necessity for tying the economic hands of Germany after
the war. No annexations, perhaps; but tariffs, which would be much
better. And he shows in argument the advantages and prosperity brought
by carnage and destruction.
He sees me. He adorns himself with a smile and comes forward with
proffered hand. I turn violently away. I have no use for the hand of
this sort of outsider, this sort of traitor.
They lie. That ludicrous person who talks of taking the long view
while there are still in the world only a few superb martyrs who have
dared to do it, he who is satisfied to contemplate, beyond the present
misery of men, the misery of their children; and the white-haired man
who was extolling slavery just now, and trying to turn aside the
demands of the people and switch them on to traditional massacre; and
he who from the height of his bunting and trestles would have put a
glamour of beauty and morality on battles; and he, the attitudinizer,
who brings to life the memory of the dead only to deny with word
trickery the terrible evidence of death, he who rewards the martyrs
with the soft soap of false promises--all these people tell lies, lies,
lies! Through their words I can hear the mental reservation they are
chewing over--"Around us, the deluge; and after us, the deluge." Or
else they do not even lie; they see nothing and they know not what they
They have opened the red barrier. Applause and congratulations cross
each other. Some notabilities come down from the rostrum, they look at
me, they are obviously interested in the wounded soldier that I am,
they advance towards me. Among them is the intellectual person who
spoke first. He is wagging the white head and its cauliflower curls,
and looking all ways with eyes as empty as those of a king of cards.
They told me his name, but I have forgotten it with contempt. I slip
away from them. I am bitterly remorseful that for so long a portion of
my life I believed what Bonéas said. I accuse myself of having
formerly put my trust in speakers and writers who--however learned,
distinguished, famous--were only imbeciles or villains. I fly from
these people, since I am not strong enough to answer and resist
them--or to cry out upon them that the only memory it is important to
preserve of the years we have endured is that of their loathsome horror
* * * * * *
But the few words fallen from on high have sufficed to open my eyes, to
show me that the Separation I dimly saw in the tempest of my nights in
hospital was true. It comes down from vacancy and the clouds, it takes
form and it takes root--it is there, it is there; and the indictment
comes to light, as precise and as tragic as that row of faces!
Kings? There they are. There are many different kinds of king, just
as there are different gods. But there is one royalty everywhere, and
that is the very form of ancient society, the great machine which is
stronger than men. And all the personages enthroned on that
rostrum--those business men and bishops, those politicians and great
merchants, those bulky office-holders or journalists, those old
generals in sumptuous decorations, those writers in uniform--they are
the custodians of the highest law and its executors.
It is those people whose interests are common and are contrary to those
of mankind; and their interests are--above all and imperiously--let
nothing change! It is those people who keep their eternal subjects in
eternal order, who deceive and dazzle them, who take their brains away
as they take their bodies, who flatter their servile instincts, who
make shallow, resplendent creeds for them, and explain huge happenings
away with all the pretexts they like. It is because of them that the
law of things does not rest on justice and the moral law.
If some of them are unconscious of it, no matter. Neither does it
matter that all of them do not always profit by the public's servitude,
nor that some of them, sometimes, even happen to suffer from it. They
are none the less, all of them, by their solid coalition, material and
moral, the defenders of lies above and delusion below. These are the
people who reign in the place of kings, or at the same time, here as
Formerly I used to see a harmony of interests and ideals on all that
festive, sunlit hill. Now I see reality broken in two, as I did on my
bed of pain. I see the two enemy races face to face--the victors and
Monsieur Gozlan looks like a master of masters--an aged collector of
fortune, whose speculations are famous, whose wealth increases unaided,
who makes as much profit as he likes and holds the district in the
hollow of his hand. His vulgar movements flash with diamonds, and a
bulky golden trinket hangs on his belly like a phallus. The generals
beside him--those glorious potentates whose smiles are made of so many
souls--and the administrators and the honorables only look like
Fontan occupies considerable space on the rostrum. He drowses there,
with his two spherical hands planted in front of him. The voluminous
trencherman digests and blows forth with his buttered mouth; and what
he has eaten purrs within him. As for Rampaille, the butcher, _he_ has
mingled with the public. He is rich but dressed with bad taste. It is
his habit to say, "I am a poor man of the people, I am; look at my
dirty clothes." A moment ago, when the lady who was collecting for the
Lest-we-Forget League suddenly confronted him and trapped him amid
general attention, he fumbled desperately in his fob and dragged three
sous out of his body. There are several like him on this side of the
barrier, looking as though they were part of the crowd, but only
attached to it by their trade. Kings do not now carry royalty
everywhere on their sleeves; they obliterate themselves in the clothes
of everybody. But all the hundred faces of royalty have the same
signs, all of them, and are distinctly repeated through their smiles of
cupidity, rapacity, ferocity.
And there the dark multitude fidgets about. By footpaths and streets
they have come from the country and the town. I see, gazing earnestly,
stiff-set with attention, faces scorched by rude contact with the
seasons or blanched by bad atmospheres; the sharp and mummified face of
the peasant; faces of young men grown bitter before they have come of
age; of women grown ugly before they have come of age, who draw the
little wings of their capes over their faded blouses and faded throats;
the clerks of anemic and timorous career; and the little people with
whom times are so difficult, whom their mediocrity depresses; all that
stirring of backs and shoulders and hanging arms, in poverty dressed up
or naked. Behold their numbers and immense strength. Behold,
therefore, authority and justice. For justice and authority are not
hollow formulas--they are life, the most of life there can be; they are
mankind, they are mankind in all places and all times. These words,
justice and authority, do not echo in an abstract sphere. They are
rooted in the human being. They overflow and palpitate. When I demand
justice, I am not groping in a dream, I am crying from the depths of
all unhappy hearts.
Such are they, that mountain of people heaped on the ground like metal
for the roads, overwhelmed by unhappiness, debased by charity and
asking for it, bound to the rich by urgent necessity, entangled in the
wheels of a single machine, the machine of frightful repetition. And
in that multitude I also place nearly all young people, whoever they
are, because of their docility and their general ignorance. These
lowly people form an imposing mass as far as one may see, yet each of
them is hardly anything, because he is isolated. It is almost a
mistake to count them; what you see when you look at the multitude is
an immensity made of nothing.
And the people of to-day--overloaded with gloom and intoxicated with
prejudice--see blood, because of the red hangings of rostrums; they are
fascinated by the sparkle of diamonds, of necklaces, of decorations, of
the eyeglasses of the intellectuals. They have eyes but they see not,
ears but they hear not; arms which they do not use; and they are
thoughtless because they let others do their thinking! And the other
half of this same multitude is yonder, looking for Man and looked for
by Man, in the big black furrows where blood is scattered and the human
race is disappearing. And still farther away, in another part of the
world, the same throne-like platforms are crushing into the same
immense areas of men; and the same gilded servants of royalty are
scattering broadcast words which are only a translation of those which
fell on us here.
Some women in mourning are hardly stains on this gloomy unity. They
wander and turn round in the open spaces, and are the same as they were
in ancient times. They are not of any age or any century, these
murdered souls, covered with black veils; they are you and I.
My vision was true from top to bottom. The evil dream has become a
concrete tragi-comedy which is worse. It is inextricable, heavy,
crushing. I flounder from detail to detail of it; it drags me along.
Behold what is. Behold, therefore, what will be--exploitation to the
last breath, to the limit of wearing out, to death perfected!
I have overtaken Marie. By her side I feel more defenseless than when
I am alone. While we watch the festival, the shining hurly-burly,
murmuring and eulogistic, the Baroness espies me, smiles and signs to
me to go to her. So I go, and in the presence of all she pays me some
compliment or other on my service at the front. She is dressed in
black velvet and wears her white hair like a diadem. Twenty-five years
of vassalage bow me before her and fill me with silence. And I salute
the Gozlans also, in a way which I feel is humble in spite of myself,
for they are all-powerful over me, and they make Marie an allowance
without which we could not live properly. I am no more than a man.
I see Tudor, whose eyes were damaged in Artois, hesitating and groping.
The Baroness has found a little job for him in the castle kitchens.
"Isn't she good to the wounded soldiers?" they are saying around me.
"She's a real benefactor!"
This time I say aloud, "_There_ is the real benefactor," and I point to
the ruin which the young man has become whom we used to know, to the
miserable, darkened biped whose eyelids flutter in the daylight, who
leans weakly against a tree in face of the festive crowd, as if it were
an execution post.
"Yes--after all--yes, yes," the people about me murmur, timidly; they
also blinking as though tardily enlightened by the spectacle of the
But they are not heard--they hardly even hear themselves--in the flood
of uproar from a brass band. A triumphal march goes by with the strong
and sensual driving force of its, "Forward! You shall _not_ know!"
The audience fill themselves with brazen music, and overflow in cheers.
The ceremony is drawing to a close. They who were seated on the
rostrum get up. Fontan, bewildered with sleepiness, struggles to put
on a tall hat which is too narrow, and while he screws it round he
grimaces. Then he smiles with his boneless mouth. All congratulate
themselves through each other; they shake their own hands; they cling
to themselves. After their fellowship in patriotism they are going
back to their calculations and gratifications, glorified in their
egotism, sanctified, beatified; more than ever will they blend their
own with the common cause and say, "_We_ are the people!"
Brisbille, seeing one of the orators passing near him, throws him a
ferocious look, and shouts, "Land-shark!" and other virulent insults.
But because of the brass instruments let loose, people only see him
open his mouth, and Monsieur Mielvaque dances with delight. Monsieur
Mielvaque, declared unfit for service, has been called up again. More
miserable than ever, worn and pared and patched up, more and more
parched and shriveled by hopelessly long labor--he blots out the shiny
places on his overcoat with his pen--Mielvaque points to Brisbille
gagged by the band, he writhes with laughter and shouts in my ear, "He
might be trying to sing!"
Madame Marcassin's paralyzed face appears, the disappearance of which
she unceasingly thinks has lacerated her features. She also applauds
the noise and across her face--which has gone out like a lamp--there
shot a flash. Can it be only because, to-day, attention is fixed on
A mother, mutilated in her slain son, is giving her mite to the
offertory for the Lest-we-Forget League. She is bringing her poverty's
humble assistance to those who say, "Remember evil; not that it may be
avoided, but that it may be revived, by exciting at random all causes
of hatred. Memory must be made an infectious disease." Bleeding and
bloody, inflamed by the stupid selfishness of vengeance, she holds out
her hand to the collector, and drags behind her a little girl who,
nevertheless, will one day, perhaps, be a mother.
Lower down, an apprentice is devouring an officer's uniform with his
gaze. He stands there hypnotized; and the sky-blue and beautiful
crimson come off on his eyes. At that moment I saw clearly that beauty
in uniforms is still more wicked than stupid.
Ah! That frightful prophecy locked up within me is hammering my skull,
"I have confidence in the abyss of the people."
* * * * * *
Wounded by everything I see, I sink down in a corner. Truth is simple;
but the world is no longer simple. There are so many things! How will
truth ever change its defeat into victory? How is it ever going to
heal all those who do not know! I grieve that I am weak and
ineffective, that I am only I. On earth, alas, truth is dumb, and the
heart is only a stifled cry!
I look for support, for some one who does not leave me alone. I am too
much alone, and I look eagerly. But there is only Brisbille!
There is only that tipsy automaton; that parody of a man.
There he is. Close by he is more drunk than in the distance!
Drunkenness bedaubs him; his eyes are filled with wine, his cheeks are
like baked clay, his nose like a baked apple, he is almost blinded by
viscous tufts. In the middle of that open space he seems caught in a
whirlpool. It happens that he is in front of me for a moment, and he
hurls at my head some furious phrases in which I recognize, now and
again, the truths in which I believe! Then, with antics at once
desperate and too heavy for him, he tries to perform some kind of
pantomime which represents the wealthy class, round-paunched as a bag
of gold, sitting on the proletariat till their noses are crushed in the
gutter, and proclaiming, with their eyes up to heaven and their hands
on their hearts, "And above all, no more class-wars!" There is
something alarming in the awkwardness of the grimacing object begotten
by that obstructed brain. It seems as if real suffering is giving
voice through him with a beast's cry.
When he has spoken, he collapses on to a stone. With his fist, whose
leather is covered with red hair, like a cow's, he hides the squalid
face that looks as if it had been spat upon. "Folks aren't wicked," he
says, "but they're stupid, stupid, stupid."
And Brisbille cries.
Just then Father Piot advances into the space, with his silver aureole,
his benevolent smile, and the vague and continuous lisping which
trickles from his lips. He stops in the middle of us, gives a nod to
each one and continuing his ingenuous reflections aloud, he murmurs,
"Hem, hem! The most important thing of all, in war, is the return to
religious ideas. Hem!"
The monstrous calm of the saying makes me start, and communicates final
agitation to Brisbille. Throwing himself upright, the blacksmith
flourishes his trembling fist, tries to hold it under the old priest's
chin, and bawls, "You? Shall I tell you how _you_ make me feel, eh?
Some young men seize him, hustle him and throw him down. His head
strikes the ground and he is at last immobile. Father Piot raises his
arms to heaven and kneels over the vanquished madman. There are tears
in the old man's eyes.
When we have made a few steps away I cannot help saying to Marie, with
a sort of courage, that Brisbille is not wrong in all that he says.
Marie is shocked, and says, "Oh!"
"There was a time," she says, reproachfully, "when you set about him!"
I should like Marie to understand what I am wanting to say. I explain
to her, that although he may be a drunkard and a brute, he is right in
what he thinks. He stammers and hiccups the truth, but it was not he
who made it, and it is whole and pure. He is a degraded prophet, but
the relics of his dreams have remained accurate. And that saintly old
man, who is devotion incarnate, who would not harm a fly, he is only a
lowly servant of lies; but he brings his little link to the chain, and
he smiles on the side of the executioners.
"One shouldn't ever confuse ideas with men. It's a mistake that does a
lot of harm."
Marie lowers her head and says nothing; then she murmurs, "Yes, that's
I pick up the little sentence she has given me. It is the first time
that approval of that sort has brought her near to me. She has
intelligence within her; she understands certain things. Women, in
spite of thoughtless impulses, are quicker in understanding than men.
Then she says to me, "Since you came back, you've been worrying your
head too much."
Crillon was on our heels. He stands in front of me, and looks
"I was listening to you just now," he says; "I must tell you that since
you came back you have the air of a foreigner--a Belgian or an
American. You say intolantable things. We thought at first your mind
had got a bit unhinged. Unfortunately, it's not that. Is it because
you've turned sour? Anyway, I don't know what advantage you're after,
but I must cautionize you that you're anielating everybody. We must
put ourselves in these people's places. Apropos of this, and apropos
of that, you make proposals of a tendicious character which doesn't
escape them. You aren't like the rest any more. If you go on you'll
look as silly as a giant, and if you're going to frighten folks, look
out for yourself!"
He plants himself before me in massive conviction. The full daylight
reveals more crudely the aging of his features. His skin is stretched
on the bones of his head, and the muscles of his neck and shoulders
work badly; they stick, like old drawers.
"And then, after all, what _do_ you want? We've got to carry the war
on, eh? We must give the Boches hell, to sum up."
With an effort, wearied beforehand, I ask, "And afterwards?"
"What--afterwards? Afterwards there'll be wars, naturally, but
civilized wars. Afterwards? Why, future posterity! Own up that you'd
like to save the world, eh, what? When you launch out into these great
machinations you say enormities compulsively. The future? Ha, ha!"
I turn away from him. Of what use to try to tell him that the past is
dead, that the present is passing, that the future alone is positive!
Through Crillon's paternal admonishment I feel the threat of the
others. It is not yet hostility around me; but it is already a
rupture. With this truth that clings to me alone, amid the world and
its phantoms, am I not indeed rushing into a sort of tragedy impossible
to maintain? They who surround me, filled to the lips, filled to the
eyes, with the gross acceptance which turns men into beasts, they look
at me mistrustfully, ready to be let loose against me. Little more was
lacking before I should be as much a reprobate as Brisbille, who, in
this very place, before the war, stood up alone before the multitude
and tried to tell them to their faces that they were going into the
* * * * * *
I move away with Marie. We go down into the valley, and then climb
Chestnut Hill. I like these places where I used so often to come in
the days when everything around me was a hell which I did not see. Now
that I am a ghost returning from the beyond, this hill still draws me
through the streets and lanes. I remember it and it remembers me.
There is something which we share, which I took away with me yonder,
everywhere, like a secret. I hear that despoiled soldier who said,
"Where I come from there are fields and paths and the sea; nowhere else
in the world is there that," and amid my unhappy memories that
extraordinary saying shines like news of the truth.
We sit down on the bank which borders the lane. We can see the town,
the station and carts on the road; and yonder three villages make
harmony, sometimes more carefully limned by bursts of sunshine. The
horizons entwine us in a murmur. The crossing where we are is the spot
where four roads make a movement of reunion.
But my spirit is no longer what it was. Vaguely I seek, everywhere. I
must see things with all their consequences, and right to their source.
Against all the chains of facts I must have long arguments to bring;
and the world's chaos requires an interpretation equally terrible.
* * * * * *
There is a slight noise--a frail passer-by and a speck which jumps
round her feet. Marie looks and says mechanically, like a devout
woman, making the sign of the cross, "Poor little angel!"
It is little Antoinette and her dog. She gropes for the edge of the
road with a stick, for she has become quite blind. They never looked
after her. They were going to do it, unendingly, but they never did
it. They always said, "Poor little angel," and that was all.
She is so miserably clad that you lower your eyes before her, although
she cannot see. She wanders and seeks, incapable of understanding the
wrong they have done, they have allowed to be done, the wrong which no
one remembers. Alas, to the prating indifference and the indolent
negligence of men there is only this poor little blind witness.
She stops in front of us and puts out her hand awkwardly. She is
begging! No one troubles himself about her now. She is talking to her
dog; he was born in the castle kennels--Marie told me about him. He
was the last of a litter, ill-shaped, with a head too big, and bad
eyes; and the Baroness said, as they were going to drown him, and
because she is always thinking of good things, "Give him to the little
blind girl." The child is training him to guide her; but he is young,
he wants to play when other dogs go by, he hears her with listless ear.
It is difficult for him to begin serious work; and he plucks the string
from her hands. She calls to him; and waits.
Then, during a long time, a good many passers-by appear and vanish. We
do not look at all of them.
But lo, turning the corner like some one of importance, here comes a
sleek and tawny mastiff, with the silvery tinkle of a trinket which
gleams on his neck. He is proclaiming and preceding his young
mistress, Mademoiselle Evelyn de Monthyon, who is riding her pony. The
little girl caracoles sedately, clad in a riding habit, and armed with
a crop. She has been an orphan for a long time. She is the mistress
of the castle. She is twelve years old and has millions. A mounted
groom in full livery follows her, looking like a stage-player or a
chamberlain; and then, with measured steps, an elderly governess,
dressed in black silk, and manifestly thinking of some Court.
Mademoiselle Evelyn de Monthyon and her pretty name set us thinking of
Antoinette, who hardly has a name; and it seems to us that these two
are the only ones who have passed before our eyes. The difference in
the earthly fates of these two creatures who have both the same fragile
innocence, the same pure and complete incapacity of childhood, plunges
us into a tragedy of thought. The misery and the might which have
fallen on those little immature heads are equally undeserved. It is a
disgrace for men to see a poor child; it is also a disgrace for men to
see a rich child.
I feel malicious towards the little sumptuous princess who has just
appeared, already haughty in spite of her littleness; and I am stirred
with pity for the frail victim whom life is obliterating with all its
might; and Marie, I can see, gentle Marie, has the same thoughts. Who
would not feel them in face of this twin picture of childhood which a
passing chance has brought us, of this one picture torn in two?
But I resist this emotion; the understanding of things must be based,
not on sentiment, but on reason. There must be justice, not charity.
Kindness is solitary. Compassion becomes one with him whom we pity; it
allows us to fathom him, to understand him alone amongst the rest; but
it blurs and befogs the laws of the whole. I must set off with a clear
idea, like the beam of a lighthouse through the deformities and
temptations of night.
As I have seen equality, I am seeing inequality. Equality in truth;
inequality in fact. We observe in man's beginning the beginning of his
hurt; the root of the error is in inheritance.
Injustice, artificial and groundless authority, royalty without reason,
the fantastic freaks of fortune which suddenly put crowns on heads! It
is there, as far as the monstrous authority of the dead, that we must
draw a straight line and clean the darkness away.
The transfer of the riches and authority of the dead, of whatever kind,
to their descendants, is not in accord with reason and the moral law.
The laws of might and of possessions are for the living alone. Every
man must occupy in the common lot a place which he owes to his work and
not to luck.
It is tradition! But that is no reason, on the other hand. Tradition,
which is the artificial welding of the present with the mass of the
past, contrives a chain between them, where there is none. It is from
tradition that all human unhappiness comes; it piles _de facto_, truths
on to the true truth; it overrides justice; it takes all freedom away
from reason and replaces it with legendary things, forbidding reason to
look for what may be inside them.
It is in the one domain of science and its application, and sometimes
in the technique of the arts, that experience legitimately takes the
power of law, and that acquired productions have a right to accumulate.
But to pass from this treasuring of truth to the dynastic privilege of
ideas or powers or wealth--those talismans--that is to make a senseless
assimilation which kills equality in the bud and prevents human order
from having a basis. Inheritance, which is the concrete and palpable
form of tradition, defends itself by the tradition of origins and of
beliefs--abuses defended by abuses, to infinity--and it is by reason of
that integral succession that here, on earth, we see a few men holding
the multitude of men in their hands.
I say all this to Marie. She appears to be more struck by the
vehemence of my tone than by the obviousness of what I say. She
replies, feebly, "Yes, indeed," and nods her head; but she asks me,
"But the moral law that you talk about, isn't it tradition?"
"No. It is the automatic law of the common good. Every time _that_
finds itself at stake, it re-creates itself logically. It is lucid; it
shows itself every time right to its fountain-head. Its source is
reason itself, and equality, which is the same thing as reason. This
thing is good and that is evil, _because_ it is good and because it is
evil, and not because of what has been said or written. It is the
opposite of traditional bidding. There is no tradition of the good.
Wealth and power must be earned, not taken ready-made; the idea of what
is just or right must be reconstructed on every occasion and not be
Marie listens to me. She ponders, and then says, "We shouldn't work if
we hadn't to leave what we have to our relations."
But immediately she answers herself, "No."
She produces some illustrations, just among our own surroundings.
So-and-so, and So-and-so. The bait of gain or influence, or even the
excitement of work and production suffice for people to do themselves
harm. And then, too, this great change would paralyze the workers less
than the old way paralyzes the prematurely enriched who pick up their
fortunes on the ground--such as he, for instance, whom we used to see
go by, who was drained and dead at twenty, and so many other ignoble
and irrefutable examples; and the comedies around bequests and heirs
and heiresses, and their great gamble with affection and love--all
these basenesses, in which custom too old has made hearts go moldy.
She is a little excited, as if the truth, in the confusion of these
critical times, were beautiful to see--and even pleasant to detain with
All the same, she interrupts herself, and says, "They'll always find
some way of deceiving." At last she says, "Yes, it would be just,
perhaps; but it won't come."
* * * * * *
The valley has suddenly filled with tumult. On the road which goes
along the opposite slope a regiment is passing on its way to the
barracks, a new regiment, with its colors. The flag goes on its way in
the middle of a long-drawn hurly-burly, in vague shouting, in plumes of
dust and a sparkling mist of battle.
We have both mechanically risen on the edge of the road. At the moment
when the flag passes before us, the habit of saluting it trembles in my
arms. But, just as when a while ago the bishop's lifted hand did not
humble me, I stay motionless, and I do not salute.
No, I do not bow in presence of the flag. It frightens me, I hate it
and I accuse it. No, there is no beauty in it; it is not the emblem of
this corner of my native land, whose fair picture it disturbs with its
savage stripes. It is the screaming signboard of the glory of blows,
of militarism and war. It unfurls over the living surges of humanity a
sign of supremacy and command; it is a weapon. It is not the love of
our countries, it is their sharp-edged difference, proud and
aggressive, which we placard in the face of the others. It is the
gaudy eagle which conquerors and their devotees see flying in their
dreams from steeple to steeple in foreign lands. The sacred defense of
the homeland--well and good. But if there was no offensive war there
would be defensive war. Defensive war has the same infamous cause as
the offensive war which provoked it; why do we not confess it? We
persist, through blindness or duplicity, in cutting the question in
two, as if it were too great. All fallacies are possible when one
speculates on morsels of truth. But Earth only bears one single sort
It is not enough to put something on the end of a stick in public
places, to shake it on the tops of buildings and in the faces of public
assemblies, and say, "It is decided that this is the loftiest of all
symbols; it is decided that he who will not bend the knee before it
shall be accursed." It is the duty of human intelligence to examine if
that symbolism is not fetish-worship.
As for me, I remember it was said that logic has terrible chains and
that all hold together--the throne, the altar, the sword and the flag.
And I have read, in the unchaining and the chaining-up of war, that
these are the instruments of the cult of human sacrifices.
Marie has sat down again, and I strolled away a little, musing.
I recall the silhouette of Adjutant Marcassin, and him whom I quoted a
moment ago--the sincere hero, barren and dogmatic, with his furious
faith. I seem to be asking him, "Do you believe in beauty, in
progress?" He does not know, so he replies, "No! I only believe in
the glory of the French name!" "Do you believe in respect for life, in
the dignity of labor, in the holiness of happiness?" "No." "Do you
believe in truth, in justice?" "No, I only believe in the glory of the
The idea of motherland--I have never dared to look it in the face. I
stand still in my walk and in my meditation. What, that also? But my
reason is as honest as my heart, and keeps me going forward. Yes, that
In the friendly solitude of these familiar spots on the top of this
hill, at these cross-roads where the lane has led me like an unending
companion, not far from the place where the gentle slope waits for you
to entice you, I quake to hear myself think and blaspheme. What, that
notion of Motherland also, which has so often thrilled me with gladness
and enthusiasm, as but lately that of God did?
But it is in Motherland's name, as once in the name of God only, that
humanity robs itself and tries to choke itself with its own hands, as
it will soon succeed in doing. It is because of motherland that the
big countries, more rich in blood, have overcome the little ones. It
is because of motherland that the overlord of German nationalism
attacked France and let civil war loose among the people of the world.
The question must be placed there where it is, that is to say,
everywhere at once. One must see face to face, in one glance, all
those immense, distinct unities which each shout "I!"
The idea of motherland is not a false idea, but it is a little idea,
and one which must remain little.
There is only one common good. There is only one moral duty, only one
truth, and every man is the shining recipient and guardian of it. The
present understanding of the idea of motherland divides all these great
ideas, cuts them into pieces, specializes them within impenetrable
circles. We meet as many national truths as we do nations, and as many
national duties, and as many national interests and rights--and they
are antagonistic to each other. Each country is separated from the
next by such walls--moral frontiers, material frontiers, commercial
frontiers--that you are imprisoned when you find yourself on either
side of them. We hear talk of sanctified selfishness, of the adorable
expansion of one race across the others, of noble hatreds and glorious
conquests, and we see these ideals trying to take shape on all hands.
This capricious multiplication of what ought to remain one leads the
whole of civilization into a malignant and thorough absurdity. The
words "justice" and "right" are too great in stature to be shut up in
proper nouns, any more than Providence can be, which every royalty
would fain take to itself.
National aspirations--confessed or unconfessable--are contradictory
among themselves. All populations which are narrowly confined and
elbow each other in the world are full of dreams vaster than each of
them. The nations' territorial ambitions overlap each other on the map
of the universe; economic and financial ambitions cancel each other
mathematically. Then in the mass they are unrealizable.
And since there is no sort of higher control over this scuffle of
truths which are not admissible, each nation realizes its own by all
possible means, by all the fidelity and anger and brute force she can
get out of herself. By the help of this state of world-wide anarchy,
the lazy and slight distinction between patriotism, imperialism and
militarism is violated, trampled, and broken through all along the
line, and it cannot be otherwise. The living universe cannot help
becoming an organization of armed rivalry. And there cannot fail to
result from it the everlasting succession of evils, without any hope of
abiding spoils, for there is no instance of conquerors who have long
enjoyed immunity, and history reveals a sort of balance of injustices
and of the fatal alternation of predominance. In all quarters the hope
of victory brings in the hope of war. It is conflict clinging to
conflict, and the recurrent murdering of murders.
The kings! We always find the kings again when we examine popular
unhappiness right to the end! This hypertrophy of the national unities
is the doing of their leaders. It is the masters, the ruling
aristocracies--emblazoned or capitalist--who have created and
maintained for centuries all the pompous and sacred raiment,
sanctimonious or fanatical, in which national separation is clothed,
along with the fable of national interests--those enemies of the
multitudes. The primeval centralization of individuals isolated in the
inhabited spaces was in agreement with the moral law; it was the
precise embodiment of progress; it was of benefit to all. But the
decreed division, peremptory and stern, which was interposed in that
centralization--that is the doom of man, although it is necessary to
the classes who command. These boundaries, these clean cuts, permit
the stakes of commercial conflict and of war; that is to say, the
chance of big feats of glory and of huge speculations. _That_ is the
vital principle of Empire. If all interests suddenly became again the
individual interests of men, and the moral law resumed its full and
spacious action on the basis of equality, if human solidarity were
world-wide and complete, it would no longer lend itself to certain
sudden and partial increases which are never to the general advantage,
but may be to the advantage of a few fleeting profiteers. That is why
the conscious forces which have hitherto directed the old world's
destiny will always use all possible means to break up human harmony
into fragments. Authority holds fast to all its national bases.
The insensate system of national blocks in sinister dispersal,
devouring or devoured, has its apostles and advocates. But the
theorists, the men of spurious knowledge, will in vain have heaped up
their farrago of quibbles and arguments, their fallacies drawn from
so-called precedents or from so-called economic and ethnic necessity;
for the simple, brutal and magnificent cry of life renders useless the
efforts they make to galvanize and erect doctrines which cannot stand
alone. The disapproval which attaches in our time to the word
"internationalism" proves together the silliness and meanness of public
opinion. Humanity is the living name of truth. Men are like each
other as trees! They who rule well, rule by force and deceit; but by
The national group is a collectivity within the bosom of the chief one.
It is one group like any other; it is like him who knots himself to
himself under the wing of a roof, or under the wider wing of the sky
that dyes a landscape blue. It is not the definite, absolute, mystical
group into which they would fain transform it, with sorcery of words
and ideas, which they have armored with oppressive rules. Everywhere
man's poor hope of salvation on earth is merely to attain, at the end
of his life, this: To live one's life freely, where one wants to live
it; to love, to last, to produce in the chosen environment--just as the
people of the ancient Provinces have lost, along with their separate
leaders, their separate traditions of covetousness and reciprocal
If, from the idea of motherland, you take away covetousness, hatred,
envy and vainglory; if you take away from it the desire for
predominance by violence, what is there left of it?
It is not an individual unity of laws; for just laws have no colors.
It is not a solidarity of interests, for there are no material national
interests--or they are not honest. It is not a unity of race; for the
map of the countries is not the map of the races. What is there left?
There is left a restricted communion, deep and delightful; the
affectionate and affecting attraction in the charm of a language--there
is hardly more in the universe besides its languages which are
foreigners--there is left a personal and delicate preference for
certain forms of landscape, of monuments, of talent. And even this
radiance has its limits. The cult of the masterpieces of art and
thought is the only impulse of the soul which, by general consent, has
always soared above patriotic littlenesses.
"But," the official voices trumpet, "there is another magic
formula--the great common Past of every nation."
Yes, there is the Past. That long Golgotha of oppressed peoples; the
Law of the Strong, changing life's humble festival into useless and
recurring hecatombs; the chronology of that crushing of lives and ideas
which always tortured or executed the innovators; that Past in which
sovereigns settled their personal affairs of alliances, ruptures,
dowries and inheritance with the territory and blood which they owned;
in which each and every country was so squandered--it is common to all.
That Past in which the small attainments of moral progress, of
well-being and unity (so far as they were not solely semblances) only
crystallized with despairing tardiness, with periods of doleful
stagnation and frightful alteration along the channels of barbarism and
force; that Past of somber shame, that Past of error and disease which
every old nation has survived, which we should learn by heart that we
may hate it--yes, that Past is common to all, like misery, shame and
pain. Blessed are the new nations, for they have no remorse!
And the blessings of the past--the splendor of the French Revolution,
the huge gifts of the navigators who brought new worlds to the old one,
and the miraculous exception of scientific discoveries, which by a
second miracle were not smothered in their youth--are they not also
common to all, like the undying beauty of the ruins of the Parthenon,
Shakespeare's lightning and Beethoven's raptures, and like love, and
The universal problem into which modern life, as well as past life,
rushes and embroils and rends itself, can only be dispersed by a
universal means which reduces each nation to what it is in truth; which
strips from them all the ideal of supremacy stolen by each of them from
the great human ideal; a means which, raising the human ideal
definitely beyond the reach of all those immoderate emotions, which
shout together "_Mine_ is the only point of view," gives it at last its
divine unity. Let us keep the love of the motherland in our hearts,
but let us dethrone the conception of Motherland.
I will say what there is to say: I place the Republic before France.
France is ourselves. The Republic is ourselves and the others. The
general welfare must be put much higher than national welfare, because
it _is_ much higher. But if it is venturesome to assert, as they have
so much and so indiscriminately done, that such national interest is in
accord with the general interest, then the converse is obvious; and
that is illuminating, momentous and decisive--the good of all includes
the good of each; France can be prosperous even if the world is not,
but the world cannot be prosperous and France not. The moving argument
reëstablishes, with positive and crowding certainties which touch us
softly on all sides, that distracting stake which Pascal tried to
place, like a lever in the void--"On one side I lose; on the other I
have all to gain."
* * * * * *
Amid the beauty of these dear spots on Chestnut Hill, in the heart of
these four crossing ways, I have seen new things; not that any new
things have happened, but because I have opened my eyes.
I am rewarded, I the lowest, for being the only one of all to follow up
error to the end, right into its holy places; for I am at last
disentangling all the simplicity and truth of the great horizons. The
revelation still seems to me so terrible that the silence of men,
heaped under the roofs down there at my feet, seizes and threatens me.
And if I am but timidly formulating it within myself, that is because
each of us has lived in reality more than his life, and because my
training has filled me, like the rest, with centuries of shadow, of
humiliation and captivity.
It is establishing itself cautiously; but it is the truth, and there
are moments when logic seizes you in its godlike whirlwind. In this
disordered world where the weakness of a few oppresses the strength of
all; since ever the religion of the God of Battles and of Resignation
has not sufficed by itself to consecrate inequality. Tradition reigns,
the gospel of the blind adoration of what was and what is--God without
a head. Man's destiny is eternally blockaded by two forms of
tradition; in time, by hereditary succession; in space, by frontiers,
and thus it is crushed and annihilated in detail. It is the truth. I
am certain of it, for I am touching it.
But I do not know what will become of us. All the blood poured out,
all the words poured out, to impose a sham ideal on our bodies and
souls, will they suffice for a long time yet to separate and isolate
humanity in absurdity made real? History is a Bible of errors. I have
not only seen blessings falling from on high on all which supported
evil, and curses on all which could heal it; I have seen, here below,
the keepers of the moral law hunted and derided, from little Termite,
lost like a rat in unfolding battle, back to Jesus Christ.
We go away. For the first time since I came back I no longer lean on
Marie. It is she who leans on me.
* * * * * *
The opening of our War Museum, which was the conspicuous event of the
following days, filled Crillon with delight.
It was a wooden building, gay with flags, which the municipality had
erected; and Room 1 was occupied by an exhibition of paintings and
drawings by amateurs in high society, all war subjects. Many of them
were sent down from Paris.
Crillon, officially got up in his Sunday clothes, has bought the
catalogue (which is sold for the benefit of the wounded) and he is
struck with wonder by the list of exhibitors. He talks of titles, of
coats of arms, of crowns; he seeks enlightenment in matters of
aristocratic hierarchy. Once, as he stands before the row of frames,
"I say, now, which has got most talent in France--a princess or a
He is quite affected by these things, and with his eyes fixed on the
lower edges of the pictures he deciphers the signatures.
In the room which follows this shining exhibition of autographs there
is a crush.
On trestles disposed around the wall trophies are arranged--peaked
helmets, knapsacks covered with tawny hair, ruins of shells.
The complete uniform of a German infantryman has been built up with
items from different sources, some of them stained.
In this room there was a group of convalescents from the overflow
hospital of Viviers. These soldiers looked, and hardly spoke. Several
shrugged their shoulders. But one of them growled in front of the
German phantom, "Ah the swine!"
With a view to propaganda, they have framed a letter from a woman found
in a slain enemy's pocket. A translation is posted up as well, and
they have underlined the passage in which the woman says, "When is this
cursed war going to end?" and in which she laments the increasing cost
of little Johann's keep. At the foot of the page, the woman has
depicted, in a sentimental diagram, the increasing love that she feels
for her man.
How simple and obvious the evidence is! No reasonable person can
dispute that the being whose private life is here thrown to the winds
and who poured out his sweat and his blood in one of these rags was not
responsible for having held a rifle, for having aimed it. In the
presence of these ruins I see with monotonous and implacable obstinacy
that the attacking multitude is as innocent as the defending multitude.
On a little red-covered table by the side of a little tacked label
which says, "Cold Steel: May 9," there is a twisted French bayonet--a
bayonet, the flesh weapon, which has been twisted!
"Oh, it's fine!" says a young girl from the castle.
"It isn't Fritz and Jerry, old chap, that bends bayonets!"
"No doubt about it, we're the first soldiers in the world," says
"We've set a beautiful example to the world," says a sprightly Member
of the Upper House to all those present.
Excitement grows around that bayonet. The young girl, who is beautiful
and expansive, cannot tear herself away from it. At last she touches
it with her finger, and shudders. She does not disguise her pleasant
"I confess _I'm_ a patriot! I'm more than that--I'm a patriot and a
All heads around her are nodded in approval. That kind of talk never
seems intemperate, for it touches on sacred things.
And I, I see--in the night which falls for a moment, amid the tempest
of dying men which is subsiding on the ground--I see a monster in the
form of a man and in the form of a vulture, who, with the death-rattle
in his throat, holds towards that young girl the horrible head that is
scalped with a coronet, and says to her: "You do not know me, and you
do not know, but you are like me!"
The young girl's living laugh, as she goes off with a young officer,
recalls me to events.
All those who come after each other to the bayonet speak in the same
way, and have the same proud eyes.
"They're not stronger than us, let me tell you! It's us that's the
"Our allies are very good, but it's lucky for them we're there on the
"Ah, la, la!"
"Why, yes, there's only the French for it. All the world admires them.
Only we're always running ourselves down."
When you see that fever, that spectacle of intoxication, these people
who seize the slightest chance to glorify their country's physical
force and the hardness of its fists, you hear echoing the words of the
orators and the official politicians:--
"There is only in our hearts the condemnation of barbarism and the love
And you ask yourself if there is a single public opinion in the world
which is capable of bearing victory with dignity.
I stand aloof. I am a blot, like a bad prophet. I hear this
declaration, which bows me like an infernal burden: It is only defeat
which can open millions of eyes!
I hear some one say, with detestation, "German militarism----"
That is the final argument, that is the formula. Yes, German
militarism is hateful, and must disappear; all the world is agreed
about that--the jack-boots of the Junkers, of the Crown Princes, of the
Kaiser, and their courts of intellectuals and business men, and the
pan-Germanism which would dye Europe black and red, and the
half-bestial servility of the German people. Germany is the fiercest
fortress of militarism. Yes, everybody is agreed about that.
But they who govern Thought take unfair advantage of that agreement,
for they know well that when the simple folk have said, "German
militarism," they have said all. They stop there. They amalgamate the
two words and confuse militarism with Germany--once Germany is thrown
down there's no more to say. In that way, they attach lies to truth,
and prevent us from seeing that militarism is in reality everywhere,
more or less hypocritical and unconscious, but ready to seize
everything if it can. They force opinion to add, "It is a crime to
think of anything but beating the German enemy." But the right-minded
man must answer that it is a crime to think only of that, for the enemy
is militarism, and not Germany. I know; I will no longer let myself be
caught by words which they hide one behind another.
The Liberal Member of the Upper House says, loud enough to be heard,
that the people have behaved very well, for, after all, they have found
the cost, and they must be given credit for their good conduct.
Another personage in the same group, an Army contractor, spoke of "the
good chaps in the trenches," and he added, in a lower voice, "As long
as they're protecting us, we're all right."
"We shall reward them when they come back," replied an old lady. "We
shall give them glory, we shall make their leaders into Marshals, and
they'll have celebrations, and Kings will be there."
"And there are some who won't come back."
We see several new recruits of the 1916 class who will soon be sent to
"They're pretty boys," says the Member of the Upper House,
good-naturedly; "but they're still a bit pale-faced. We must fatten
'em up, we must fatten 'em up!"
An official of the Ministry of War goes up to the Member of the Upper
House, and says:
"The science of military preparedness is still in its beginnings.
We're getting clear for it hastily, but it is an organization which
requires a long time and which can only have full effect in time of
peace. Later, we shall take them from childhood; we shall make good
sound soldiers of them, and of good health, morally as well as
Then the band plays; it is closing time, and there is the passion of a
military march. A woman cries that it is like drinking champagne to
The visitors have gone away. I linger to look at the beflagged front
of the War Museum, while night is falling. It is the Temple. It is
joined to the Church, and resembles it. My thoughts go to those
crosses which weigh down, from the pinnacles of churches, the heads of
the living, join their two hands together, and close their eyes; those
crosses which squat upon the graves in the cemeteries at the front. It
is because of all these temples that in the future the sleep-walking
nations will begin again to go through the immense and mournful tragedy
of obedience. It is because of these temples that financial and
industrial tyranny, Imperial and Royal tyranny--of which all they whom
I meet on my way are the accomplices or the puppets--will to-morrow
begin again to wax fat on the fanaticism of the civilian, on the
weariness of those who have come back, on the silence of the dead.
(When the armies file through the Arc de Triomphe, who is there will
see--and yet they will be plainly visible--that six thousand miles of
French coffins are also passing through!) And the flag will continue
to float over its prey, that flag stuck into the shadowy front of the
War Museum, that flag so twisted by the wind's breath that sometimes it
takes the shape of a cross, and sometimes of a scythe!
Judgment is passed in that case. But the vision of the future agitates
me with a sort of despair and with a holy thrill of anger.
Ah, there are cloudy moments when one asks himself if men do not
deserve all the disasters into which they rush! No--I recover
myself--they do not deserve them. But _we_, instead of saying "I wish"
must say "I will." And what we will, we must will to build it, with
order, with method, beginning at the beginning, when once we have been
as far as that beginning. We must not only open our eyes, but our
arms, our wings.
This isolated wooden building, with its back against a wood-pile, and
nobody in it----
Burn it? Destroy it? I thought of doing it.
To cast that light in the face of that moving night, which was crawling
and trampling there in the torchlight, which had gone to plunge into
the town and grow darker among the dungeon-cells of the bedchambers,
there to hatch more forgetfulness in the gloom, more evil and misery,
or to breed unavailing generations who will be abortive at the age of
The desire to do it gripped my body for a moment. I fell back, and I
went away, like the others.
It seems to me that, in not doing it, I did an evil deed.
For if the men who are to come free themselves instead of sinking in
the quicksands, if they consider, with lucidity and with the epic pity
it deserves, this age through which I go drowning, they would perhaps
have thanked me, even me! From those who will not see or know me, but
in whom for this sudden moment I want to hope, I beg pardon for not
* * * * * *
In a corner where the neglected land is turning into a desert, and
which lies across my way home, some children are throwing stones at a
mirror which they have placed a few steps away as a target. They
jostle each other, shouting noisily; each of them wants the glory of
being the first to break it. I see the mirror again that I broke with
a brick at Buzancy, because it seemed to stand upright like a living
being! Next, when the fragment of solid light is shattered into
crumbs, they pursue with stones an old dog, whose wounded foot trails
like his tail. No one wants it any more; it is ready to be finished
off, and the urchins are improving the occasion. Limping, his
pot-hanger spine all arched, the animal hurries slowly, and tries
vainly to go faster than the pebbles.
The child is only a confused handful of confused and superficial
propensities. _Our_ deep instincts--there they are.
I scatter the children, and they withdraw into the shadows unwillingly,
and look at me with malice. I am distressed by this maliciousness,
which is born full-grown. I am distressed also by this old dog's lot.
They would not understand me if I acknowledged that distress; they
would say, "And you who've seen so many wounded and dead!" All the
same, there is a supreme respect for life. I am not slighting
intellect; but life is common to us along with poorer living things
than ourselves. He who kills an animal, however lowly it may be,
unless there is necessity, is an assassin.
At the crossing I meet Louise Verte, wandering about. She has gone
crazy. She continues to accost men, but they do not even know what she
begs for. She rambles, in the streets, and in her hovel, and on the
pallet where she is crucified by drunkards. She is surrounded by
general loathing. "That a woman?" says a virtuous man who is going by,
"that dirty old strumpet? A woman? A sewer, yes." She is harmless.
In a feeble, peaceful voice, which seems to live in some supernatural
region, very far from us, she says to me:
"I am the queen."
Immediately and strangely she adds, as though troubled by some
"Don't take my illusion away from me."
I was on the point of answering her, but I check myself, and just say,
"Yes," as one throws a copper, and she goes away happy.
* * * * * *
My respect for life is so strong that I feel pity for a fly which I
have killed. Observing the tiny corpse at the gigantic height of my
eyes, I cannot help thinking how well made that organized speck of dust
is, whose wings are little more than two drops of space, whose eye has
four thousand facets; and that fly occupies my thought for a moment,
which is a long time for it.
* * * * * *
I am leaning this evening out of the open window. As in bygone nights,
I am watching the dark pictures, invisible at first, taking shape--the
steeple towering out of the hollow, and broadly lighted against the
hill; the castle, that rich crown of masonry; and then the massive
sloping black of the chimney-peopled roofs, which are sharply outlined
against the paler black of space, and some milky, watching windows.
The eye is lost in all directions among the desolation where the
multitude of men and women are hiding, as always and as everywhere.
That is what is. Who will say, "That is what must be!"
I have searched, I have indistinctly seen, I have doubted. Now, I
I do not regret my youth and its beliefs. Up to now, I have wasted my
time to live. Youth is the true force, but it is too rarely lucid.
Sometimes it has a triumphant liking for what is now, and the
pugnacious broadside of paradox may please it. But there is a degree
in innovation which they who have not lived very much cannot attain.
And yet who knows if the stern greatness of present events will not
have educated and aged the generation which to-day forms humanity's
effective frontier? Whatever our hope may be, if we did not place it
in youth, where should we place it?
Who will speak--see, and then speak? To speak is the same thing as to
see, but it is more. Speech perpetuates vision. We carry no light; we
are things of shadow, for night closes our eyes, and we put out our
hands to find our way when the light is gone; we only shine in speech;
truth is made by the mouths of men. The wind of words--what is it? It
is our breath--not all words, for there are artificial and copied ones
which are not part of the speaker; but the profound words, the cries.
In the human cry you feel the effort of the spring. The cry comes out
of us, it is as living as a child. The cry goes on, and makes the
appeal of truth wherever it may be, the cry gathers cries.
There is a voice, a low and untiring voice, which helps those who do
not and will not see themselves, a voice which brings them together,
Books--the book we choose, the favorite, the book you open, which was
waiting for you!
Formerly, I hardly knew any books. Now, I love what they do. I have
brought together as many as I could. There they are, on the shelves,
with their immense titles, their regular, profound contents; they are
there, all around me, arranged like houses.
* * * * * *
Who will tell the truth? But it is not enough to say things in order
to let them be seen.
Just now, pursued by the idea of my temptation at the War Museum, I
imagined that I had acted on it, and that I was appearing before the
judges. I should have told them a fine lot of truths, I should have
proved to them that I had done right. I should have made myself, the
accused, into the prosecutor.
No! I should not have spoken thus, for I should not have known! I
should have stood stammering, full of a truth throbbing within me,
choking, unconfessable truth. It is not enough to speak; you must know
words. When you have said, "I am in pain," or when you have said, "I
am right," you have said nothing in reality, you have only spoken to
yourself. The real presence of truth is not in every word of truth,
because of the wear and tear of words, and the fleeting multiplicity of
arguments. One must have the gift of persuasion, of leaving to truth
its speaking simplicity, its solemn unfoldings. It is not I who will
be able to speak from the depths of myself. The attention of men
dazzles me when it rises before me. The very nakedness of paper
frightens me and drowns my looks. Not I shall embellish that whiteness
with writing like light. I understand of what a great tribune's sorrow
is made; and I can only dream of him who, visibly summarizing the
immense crisis of human necessity in a work which forgets nothing,
which seems to forget nothing, without the blot even of a misplaced
comma, will proclaim our Charter to the epochs of the times in which we
are, and will let us see it. Blessed be that simplifier, from whatever
country he may come,--but all the same, I should prefer him, at the
bottom of my heart, to speak French.
Once more, he intervenes within me who first showed himself to me as
the specter of evil, he who guided me through hell. When the
death-agony was choking him and his head had darkened like an eagle's,
he hurled a curse which I did not understand, which I understand now,
on the masterpieces of art. He was afraid of their eternity, of that
terrible might they have--when once they are imprinted on the eyes of
an epoch--the strength which you can neither kill nor drive in front of
you. He said that Velasquez, who was only a chamberlain, had succeeded
Philip IV, that he would succeed the Escurial, that he would succeed
even Spain and Europe. He likened that artistic power, which the Kings
have tamed in all respects save in its greatness, to that of a
poet-reformer who throws a saying of freedom and justice abroad, a book
which scatters sparks among humanity somber as coal. The voice of the
expiring prince crawled on the ground and throbbed with secret blows:
"Begone, all you voices of light!"
* * * * * *
But what shall _we_ say? Let us spell out the Magna Charta of which we
humbly catch sight. Let us say to the people of whom all peoples are
made: "Wake up and understand, look and see; and having begun again
the consciousness which was mown down by slavery, decide that
everything must be begun again!"
Begin again, entirely. Yes, that first. If the human charter does not
re-create everything, it will create nothing.
Unless they are universal, the reforms to be carried out are utopian
and mortal. National reforms are only fragments of reforms. There
must be no half measures. Half measures are laughter-provoking in
their unbounded littleness when it is a question for the last time of
arresting the world's roll down the hill of horror. There must be no
half measures because there are no half truths. Do all, or you will do
Above all, do not let the reforms be undertaken by the Kings. That is
the gravest thing to be taught you. The overtures of liberality made
by the masters who have made the world what it is are only comedies.
They are only ways of blockading completely the progress to come, of
building up the past again behind new patchwork of plaster.
Never listen, either, to the fine words they offer you, the letters of
which you see like dry bones on hoardings and the fronts of buildings.
There are official proclamations, full of the notion of liberty and
rights, which would be beautiful if they said truly what they say. But
they who compose them do not attach their full meaning to the words.
What they recite they are not capable of wanting, nor even of
understanding. The one indisputable sign of progress in ideas to-day
is that there are things which they dare no longer leave publicly
unsaid, and that's all. There are not all the political parties that
there seem to be. They swarm, certainly, as numerous as the cases of
short sight; but there are only two--the democrats and the
conservatives. Every political deed ends fatally either in one or the
other, and all their leaders have always a tendency to act in the
direction of reaction. Beware, and never forget that if certain
assertions are made by certain lips, that is a sufficient reason why
you should at once mistrust them. When the bleached old republicans
take your cause in their hands, be quite sure that it is not yours. Be
wary as lions.
[Footnote 1: The word is used here much in the sense of our word
Do not let the simplicity of the new world out of your sight. The
social trust is simple. The complications are in what is overhead--the
accumulation of delusions and prejudice heaped up by ages of tyrants,
parasites, and lawyers. That conviction sheds a real glimmer of light
on your duty and points out the way to accomplish it. He who would dig
right down to the truth must simplify; his faith must be brutally
simple, or he is lost. Laugh at the subtle shades and distinctions of
the rhetoricians and the specialist physicians. Say aloud: "This is
what is," and then, "That is what must be."
You will never have that simplicity, you people of the world, if you do
not seize it. If you want it, do it yourself with your own hands. And
I give you now the talisman, the wonderful magic word--you _can_!
That you may be a judge of existing things, go back to their origins,
and get at the endings of all. The noblest and most fruitful work of
the human intelligence is to make a clean sweep of every enforced
idea--of advantages or meanings--and to go right through appearances in
search of the eternal bases. Thus you will clearly see the moral law
at the beginning of all things, and the conception of justice and
equality will appear to you beautiful as daylight.
Strong in that supreme simplicity, you shall say: I am the people of
the peoples; therefore I am the King of Kings, and I will that
sovereignty flows everywhere from me, since I am might and right. I
want no more despots, confessed or otherwise, great or little; I know,
and I want no more. The incomplete liberation of 1789 was attacked by
the Kings. Complete liberation will attack the Kings.
But Kings are not exclusively the uniformed ones among the trumpery
wares of the courts. Assuredly, the nations who have a King have more
tradition and subjection than the others. But there are countries
where no man can get up and say, "My people, my army," nations which
only experience the continuation of the kingly tradition in more
peaceful intensity. There are others with the great figures of
democratic leaders; but as long as the entirety of things is not
overthrown--always the entirety, the sacred entirety--these men cannot
achieve the impossible, and sooner or later their too-beautiful
inclinations will be isolated and misunderstood. In the formidable
urgency of progress, what do the proportions matter to you of the
elements which make up the old order of things in the world? All the
governors cling fatally together among themselves, and more solidly
than you think, through the old machine of chancelleries, ministries,
diplomacy, and the ceremonials with gilded swords; and when they are
bent on making war for themselves there is an unquenchable likeness
between them all, of which you want no more. Break the chain; suppress
all privileges, and say at last, "Let, there be equality."
One man is as good as another. That means that no man carries within
himself any privilege which puts him above the universal law. It means
an equality in principle, and that does not invalidate the legitimacy
of the differences due to work, to talent, and to moral sense. The
leveling only affects the rights of the citizen; and not the man as a
whole. You do not create the living being; you do not fashion the
living clay, as God did in the Bible; you make regulations. Individual
worth, on which some pretend to rely, is relative and unstable, and no
one is a judge of it. In a well-organized entirety, it cultivates and
improves itself automatically. But that magnificent anarchy cannot, at
the inception of the human Charter, take the place of the obviousness
The poor man, the proletarian, is nobler than another, but not more
sacred. In truth, all workers and all honest men are as good as each
other. But the poor, the exploited, are fifteen hundred millions here
on earth. They are the Law because they are the Number. The moral law
is only the imperative preparation of the common good. It always
involves, in different forms, the necessary limitations of some
individual interests by the rest; that is to say, the sacrifice of one
to the many, of the many to the whole. The republican conception is
the civic translation of the moral law; what is anti-republican is
Socially, women are the equals of men, without restrictions. The
beings who shine and who bring forth are not made solely to lend or to
give the heat of their bodies. It is right that the sum total of work
should be shared, reduced and harmonized by their hands. It is just
that the fate of humanity should be grounded also in the strength of
women. Whatever the danger which their instinctive love of shining
things may occasion, in spite of the facility with which they color all
things with their own feelings and the totality of their slightest
impulses--the legend of their incapacity is a fog that you will
dissipate with a gesture of _your_ hands. Their advent is in the order
of things; and it is also in order to await with hopeful heart the day
when the social and political chains of women will fall off, when human
liberty will suddenly become twice as great.
People of the world, establish equality right up to the limits of your
great life. Lay the foundations of the republic of republics over all
the area where you breathe; that is to say, the common control in broad
daylight of all external affairs, of community in the laws of labor, of
production and of commerce. The subdivision of these high social and
moral arrangements by nations or by limited unions of nations
(enlargements which are reductions) is artificial, arbitrary, and
malignant. The so-called inseparable cohesions of national interests
vanish away as soon as you draw near to examine them. There are
individual interests and a general interest, those two only. When you
say "I," it means "I"; when you say "We," it means Man. So long as a
single and identical Republic does not cover the world, all national
liberations can only be beginnings and signals!
Thus you will disarm the "fatherlands" and "motherlands," and you will
reduce the notion of Motherland to the little bit of social importance
that it must have. You will do away with the military frontiers, and
those economic and commercial barriers which are still worse.
Protection introduces violence into the expansion of labor; like
militarism, it brings in a fatal absence of balance. You will suppress
that which justifies among nations the things which among individuals
we call murder, robbery, and unfair competition. You will suppress
battles--not nearly so much by the direct measure of supervision and
order that you will take as because you will suppress the causes of
battle. You will suppress them chiefly because it is _you_ who will do
it, by yourself, everywhere, with your invincible strength and the
lucid conscience that is free from selfish motives. You will not make
war on yourself.
You will not be afraid of magic formulas and the churches. Your giant
reason will destroy the idol which suffocates its true believers. You
will salute the flags for the last time; to that ancient enthusiasm
which flattered the puerility of your ancestors, you will say a
peaceful and final farewell. In some corners of the calamities of the
past, there were times of tender emotion; but truth is greater, and
there are not more boundaries on the earth than on the sea!
Each country will be a moral force, and no longer a brutal force; while
all brutal forces clash with themselves, all moral forces make mighty
The universal republic is the inevitable consequence of equal rights in
life for all. Start from the principle of equality, and you arrive at
the people's international. If you do not arrive there it is because
you have not reasoned aright. They who start from the opposite point
of view--God, and the divine rights of popes and Kings and nobles, and
authority and tradition--will come, by fabulous paths but quite
logically, to opposite conclusions. You must not cease to hold that
there are only two teachings face to face. All things are amenable to
reason, the supreme Reason which mutilated humanity, wounded in the
eyes, has deified among the clouds.
* * * * * *
You will do away with the rights of the dead, and with heredity of
power, whatever it may be, that inheritance which is unjust in all its
gradations, for tradition takes root there, and it is an outrage on
equality, against the order of labor. Labor is a great civic deed
which all men and all women without exception must share or go down.
Such divisions will reduce it for each one to dignified proportions and
prevent it from devouring human lives.
You will not permit colonial ownership by States, which makes stains on
the map of the world and is not justified by confessable reasons; and
you will organize the abolition of that collective slavery. You will
allow the individual property of the living to stand. It is equitable
because its necessity is inherent in the circumstances of the living,
and because there are cases where you cannot tear away the right of
ownership without tearing right itself. Besides, the love of things is
a passion, like the love of beings. The object of social organization
is not to destroy sentiment and pleasure, but on the contrary to allow
them to flourish, within the limit of not wronging others. It is right
to enjoy what you have clearly earned by your work. That focused
wisdom alone bursts among the old order of things like a curse.
Chase away forever, everywhere, everywhere, the bad masters of the
sacred school. Knowledge incessantly remakes the whole of
civilization. The child's intelligence is too precious not to be under
the protection of all. The heads of families are not free to deal
according to their caprices with the ignorance which each child brings
into the daylight; they have not that liberty contrary to liberty. A
child does not belong body and soul to its parents; it is a person, and
our ears are wounded by the blasphemy--a residue of despotic Roman
tradition--of those who speak of their sons killed in the war and say,
"I have given my son." You do not give living beings--and all
intelligence belongs primarily to reason.
There must no longer be a single school where they teach idolatry,
where the wills of to-morrow grow bigger under the terror of a God who
does not exist, and on whom so many bad arguments are thrown away or
justified. Nowhere must there be any more school-books where they
dress up in some finery of prestige what is most contemptible and
debasing in the past of the nations. Let there be nothing but
universal histories, nothing but the great lines and peaks, the lights
and shadows of that chaos which for six thousand years has been the
fortune of two hundred thousand millions of men.
You will suppress everywhere the advertising of the cults, you will
wipe away the inky uniform of the parsons. Let every believer keep his
religion for himself, and let the priests stay between walls.
Toleration in face of error is a graver error. One might have dreamed
of a wise and universal church, for Jesus Christ will be justified in
His human teaching as long as there are hearts. But they who have
taken His morality in hand and fabricated their religion have poisoned
the truth; more, they have shown for two thousand years that they place
the interests of their caste before those of the sacred law of what is
right. No words, no figures can ever give an idea of the evil which
the Church has done to mankind. When she is not the oppressor herself,
upholding the right of force, she lends her authority to the oppressors
and sanctifies their pretenses; and still to-day she is closely united
everywhere with those who do not want the reign of the poor. Just as
the Jingoes invoke the charm of the domestic cradle that they may give
an impulse to war, so does the Church invoke the poetry of the Gospels;
but she has become an aristocratic party like the rest, in which every
gesture of the sign of the Cross is a slap in the Face of Jesus Christ.
Out of the love of one's native soil, they have made Nationalists; out
of Jesus they have made Jesuits.
Only international greatness will at last permit the rooting up of the
stubborn abuses which the partition walls of nationality multiply,
entangle and solidify. The future Charter--of which we confusedly
glimpse some signs and which has for its premises the great moral
principles restored to their place, and the multitude at last restored
to theirs--will force the newspapers to confess all their resources.
By means of a young language, simple and modest, it will unite all
foreigners--those prisoners of themselves. It will mow down the
hateful complexity of judicial procedure, with its booty for the
somebodies, and its lawyers as well, who intrude the tricks of
diplomacy and the melodramatic usages of eloquence into the plain and
simple machinery of justice. The righteous man must go so far as to
say that clemency has not its place in justice; the logical majesty of
the sentence which condemns the guilty one in order to frighten
possible evil-doers (and never for another reason) is itself beyond
forgiveness. International dignity will close the taverns, forbid the
sale of poisons, and will reduce to impotence the vendors who want to
render abortive, in men and young people, the future's beauty and the
reign of intelligence. And here is a mandate which appears before my
eyes--the tenacious law which must pounce without respite on all public
robbers, on all those, little and big, cynics and hypocrites, who, when
their trade or their functions bring the opportunity, exploit misery
and speculate on necessity. There is a new hierarchy to make mistakes,
to commit offenses and crimes--the true one.
You can form no idea of the beauty that is possible! You cannot
imagine what all the squandered treasure can provide, what can be
brought on by the resurrection of misguided human intelligence,
successively smothered and slain hitherto by infamous slavery, by the
despicable infectious necessity of armed attack and defense, and by the
privileges which debase human worth. You can have no notion what human
intelligence may one day find of new adoration. The people's absolute
reign will give to literature and the arts--whose harmonious shape is
still but roughly sketched--a splendor boundless as the rest. National
cliques cultivate narrowness and ignorance, they cause originality to
waste away; and the national academies, to which a residue of
superstition lends respect, are only pompous ways of upholding ruins.
The domes of those Institutes which look so grand when they tower above
you are as ridiculous as extinguishers. You must widen and
internationalize, without pause or limit, all which permits of it.
With its barriers collapsed, you must fill society with broad daylight
and magnificent spaces; with patience and heroism must you clear the
ways which lead from the individual to humanity, the ways which were
stopped up with corpses of ideas and with stone images all along their
great curving horizons. Let everything be remade on simple lines.
There is only one people, there is only one people!
If you do that, you will be able to say that, at the moment when you
planned your effort and took your decision, you saved the human species
as far as it is possible on earth to do it. You will not have brought
happiness about. The fallacy-mongers do not frighten us when they
preach resignation and paralysis on the plea that no social change can
bring happiness, thus trifling with these profound things. Happiness
is part of the inner life, it is an intimate and personal paradise; it
is a flash of chance or genius which comes sweetly to life among those
who elbow each other, and it is also the sense of glory. No, it is not
in your hands, and so it is in nobody's hands. But a balanced and
heedful life is necessary to man, that he may build the isolated home
of happiness; and death is the fearful connection of the happenings
which pass away along with our profundities. External things and those
which are hidden are essentially different, but they are held together
by peace and by death.
To accomplish the majestically practical work, to shape the whole
architecture like a statue, base nothing on impossible modifications of
human nature; await nothing from pity.
Charity is a privilege, and must disappear. For the rest, you cannot
love unknown people any more than you can have pity on them. The human
intelligence is made for infinity; the heart is not. The being who
really suffers in his heart, and not merely in his mind or in words, by
the suffering of others whom he neither sees nor touches, is a nervous
abnormality, and he cannot be argued from as an example. The repulse
of reason, the stain of absurdity, torture the intelligence in a more
abundant way. Simple as it may be, social science is geometry. Do not
accept the sentimental meaning they give to the word "humanitarianism,"
and say that the preaching of fraternity and love is vain; these words
lose their meaning amid the great numbers of man. It is in this
disordered confusion of feelings and ideas that one feels the presence
of Utopia. Mutual solidarity is of the intellect--common-sense, logic,
methodical precision, order without faltering, the ruthless inevitable
perfection of light!
In my fervor, in my hunger, and from the depths of my abyss, I uttered
these words aloud amid the silence. My great reverie was blended with
song, like the Ninth Symphony.
* * * * * *
I am resting on my elbows at the window. I am looking at the night,
which is everywhere, which touches me, _me_, although I am only I, and
it is infinite night. It seems to me that there is nothing else left
me to think about. Things cling together; they will save each other,
and will do their setting in order.
But again I am seized by the sharpest of my agonies--I am afraid that
the multitude may rest content with the partial gratifications to be
granted them everywhere by those who will use all their clinging,
cunning power to prevent the people from understanding, and then from
wishing. On the day of victory, they will pour intoxication and
dazzling deceptions into you, and put almost superhuman cries into your
mouths, "We have delivered humanity; we are the soldiers of the Right!"
without telling you all that such a statement includes of gravity, of
immense pledges and constructive genius, what it involves in respect
for great peoples, whoever they are, and of gratitude to those who are
trying to deliver themselves. They will again take up their eternal
mission of stupefying the great conscious forces, and turning them
aside from their ends. They will appeal for union and peace and
patience, to the opportunism of changes, to the danger of going too
quickly, or of meddling in your neighbor's affairs, and all the other
fallacies of the sort. They will try again to ridicule and strike down
those whom the newspapers (the ones in their pay) call dreamers,
sectarians, and traitors; once again they will flourish all their old
talismans. Doubtless they will propose, in the fashionable words of
the moment, some official parodies of international justice, which they
will break up one day like theatrical scenery; they will enunciate some
popular right, curtailed by childish restrictions and monstrous
definitions, resembling a brigand's code of honor. The wrong torn from
confessed autocracies will hatch out elsewhere--in the sham republics,
and the self-styled liberal countries who have played a hidden game.
The concessions they will make will clothe the old rotten autocracy
again, and perpetuate it. One imperialism will replace the other, and
the generations to come will be marked for the sword. Soldier,
wherever you are, they will try to efface your memory, or to exploit
it, by leading it astray, and forgetfulness of the truth is the first
form of your adversity! May neither defeat nor victory be against you.
You are above both of them, for you are all the people.
The skies are peopled with stars, a harmony which clasps reason close,
and applies the mind to the adorable idea of universal unity. Must
that harmony give us hope or misgiving?
We are in a great night of the world. The thing is to know if we shall
wake up to-morrow. We have only one succor--_we_ know of what the
night is made. But shall we be able to impart our lucid faith, seeing
that the heralds of warning are everywhere few, and that the greatest
victims hate the only ideal which is not one, and call it utopian?
Public opinion floats over the surface of the peoples, wavering and
submissive to the wind; it lends but fleeting conscience and conviction
to the majority; it cries "Down with the reformers!" It cries
"Sacrilege!" because it is made to see in its vague thoughts what it
could not itself see there. It cries that they are distorting it,
whereas they are enlarging it.
I am not afraid, as many are, and as I once was myself, of being
reviled and slandered. I do not cling to respect and gratitude for
myself. But if I succeed in reaching men, I should like them not to
curse me. Why should they, since it is not for myself? It is only
because I am sure I am right. I am sure of the principles I see at the
source of all--justice, logic, equality; all those divinely human
truths whose contrast with the realized truth of to-day is so
heart-breaking. And I want to appeal to you all; and that confidence
which fills me with a tragic joy, I want to give it to you, at once as
a command and as a prayer. There are not several ways of attaining it
athwart everything, and of fastening life and the truth together again;
there is only one--right-doing. Let rule begin again with the sublime
control of the intellect. I am a man like the rest, a man like you.
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