Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Son.

Advertisements

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

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

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

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

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

in the morning.

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

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

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

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

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

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

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

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

11 o’clock.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

in the morning.

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

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

11 o’clock.

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

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

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

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

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

To Madame C——.

My dear Friend,—How much pleasure and comfort your letter gives me, and how your warm friendship sustains my courage!

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

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

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

7 o’clock.

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

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

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

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

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