Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

in the morning sun.

The hard and splendid weather has this marvellous good—that it leaves in its great pure sky an open door for poetry. Yes, all that I told you of that beautiful time of snow came from a heart that was comforted by such triumphant beauty.

In the Reviews you send me I have read with pleasure the articles on Molière, on the English parliament, on Martainville, and on the religious questions of 1830. . . .

Did I tell you that I learnt from the papers of the death of Hillemacher? That dear friend was killed in this terrible war.

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

afternoon.

After two bad nights in the billet owing to the lack of straw, the third night was interrupted by our sudden departure for our emplacement in the second line.

Superb weather, frost and sun.

Great Nature begins again to enfold me, and her voice, which is now powerful again, consoles me.—But, dear, what a hole in one’s existence! Yes, since my promotion I have lived through moments which, though less terrible, recalled the first days of September, but with the addition of many blessings. I accept this new life, with no forecast of the future.

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

Your dear letter of the 20th reached me last night. You must not be angry with me if occasionally, as in my letter of the 13th, I lack the very thing I am always forcing myself to acquire. But I ask you to consider what can be the thoughts of one who is young, in the fulness of productiveness, at the hour when life is flowering, if he is snatched away, and cast upon barren soil where all he has cherished fails him.

Well, after the first wrench he finds that life has not forsaken him, and sets to work upon the new ungrateful ground. The effort calls for such a concentration of energy as leaves no time for either hopes or fears. It is the constant effort at adaptation, and I manage it, except only in moments of the rebellion (quickly suppressed) of the thoughts and wishes of the past. But I need my whole strength at times for keeping down the pangs of memory and accepting what is.

I was thinking of the sad moments that you too endure, and that was why I encouraged you to an impersonal idea of our union. I know how strong you are, and how prepared for this idea. Yes, you are right, we must not meet the pain half-way. But at times it is difficult to distinguish between the real suffering that affects us, and that which is only possible or imminent.

Mind you notice that I have perfect hope and that I count on prevailing grace, but, caring more than anything to be an artist, I am occupied in drawing all the beauty out, in drawing out the utmost beauty, as quickly as may be, none of us knowing how much time is meted to us.

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

. . . As for me, I have no desires left. When my trials are really hard to bear, I rest content with my own unhappiness, without facing other things.

When they become less hard, then I begin to think, to dream, and the past that is dear to me seems to have that same remote poetry which in happier days drew my thoughts to distant countries. A familiar street, or certain well-known corners, spring suddenly to my mind—just as in other days islands of dreams and legendary countries used to rise at the call of certain music and verse. But now there is no need of verse or music; the intensity of dear memories is enough.

I have not even any idea of what a new life could be; I only know that we are making life here and now.

For whom, and for what age? It hardly matters. What I do know, and what is affirmed in the very depths of my being, is that this harvest of French genius will be safely stored, and that the intellect of our race will not suffer for the deep cuts that have been made in it.

Who will say that the rough peasant, comrade of the fallen thinker, will not be the inheritor of his thoughts? No experience can falsify this magnificent intuition. The peasant’s son who has witnessed the death of the young scholar or artist will perhaps take up the interrupted work, be perhaps a link in the chain of evolution which has been for a moment suspended. This is the real sacrifice: to renounce the hope of being the torch-bearer. To a child in a game it is a fine thing to carry the flag; but for a man, it is enough to know that the flag will yet be carried. And that is what every moment of great august Nature brings home to me. Every moment reassures my heart: Nature makes flags out of anything. They are more beautiful than those to which our little habits cling. And there will always be eyes to see and cherish the lessons of earth and sky.

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

. . . I have sent you a few verses; I don’t know what they are worth, but they reconciled me to life. And then our last billet was really wonderful in its beauty. Water running over pebbles . . . vast, limpid waters at the end of the park. Sleeping ponds, dreaming walks, which none of this brutality has succeeded in defiling. To-day, sun on the snow. The beauty of the snow was deeply moving, though certainly we had some bad days, days on which there was nothing for us but the wretched mud.

It seems that we won’t be coming back to this pretty billet. Evidently they are making ready for something; the regularity of our winter existence has come to an end.

2 o’clock.

Splendid weather, herald of the spring, and we can make the most of it, because in this place we are allowed to put our noses out of doors.

I write badly to-day. I can only send you my love. This war is long, and I can’t even speak of patience.

My only happiness is that during these five and a half months I have so often been able to tell you that everything was not ugliness. . . .

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

We are in our first-line emplacements. The snow has followed us, but alas, the thaw too. Happily, in this emplacement we don’t live in water as we do in the trenches.

Can any one describe the grace of winter trees? Did I already tell you what Anatole France says in the Mannequin d’Osier? He loves their delicate outlines and their intimate beauty more when they are uncovered in winter. I too love the marvellous intricate pattern of their branches against the sky.

From my post I can see our poor village, which is collapsing more and more. Each day shells are destroying it. The church is hollowed out, but its old charm remains in its ruins; it crouches so prettily between the two delicately defined hills.

We were very happy in the second line. That time of snow was really beautiful and clement. I told you yesterday about the sunset the other day. And, before that, our arrival in the marvellous woods. . . .

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

morning.

Do not think that I ever deprive myself of sleep. In that matter our regiment is very fitful: one time we sleep for three days and three nights; another time, the opposite.

Now Nature gives me her support once more. The frightful spell of rain is interrupted by fine cold days. We live in the midst of beautiful frost and snow; the hard earth gives us a firm footing.

My little grade gets me some solitude. I no longer have my happy walks by night, but I have them in the day; my exemption from the hardest work gives me time to realise the beauty of things.

Yesterday, an unspeakable sunset. A filmy atmosphere, with shreds of tender colour; underneath, the blue cold of the snow.

Dear mother, it is a night of home-sickness. These familiar verses came to me in the peace:

‘Mon enfant, ma sœur,
Songe à la douceur
D’aller là-bas vivre ensemble
Au pays qui te ressemble.’

Yes, Beaudelaire’s Invitation au voyage seemed to take wing in the exquisite sky. Oh, I was far from war. Well, to return to earthly things: in coming back I nearly missed my dinner.

evening.

Acceptation always. Adaptation to the life which goes on and on, taking no notice of our little postulations.

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

We have been since yesterday in our second line positions; we came to them in marvellous snow and frost. A furious sky, with charming rosy colour in it, floated over the visionary forest in the snow; the trees, limpid blue low down, brown and fretted above, the earth white.

I have received two parcels; the Chanson de Roland gives me infinite pleasure—particularly the Introduction, treating of the national epic and of the Mahabharata which, it seems, tells of the fight between the spirits of good and evil.

I am happy in your lovely letters. As for the sufferings which you forebode for me, they are really very tolerable.

But what we must recognise, and without shame, is that we are a bourgeois people. We have tasted of the honey of civilisation—poisoned honey, no doubt. But no, surely that sweetness is true, and we should not be called upon to make of our ordinary existence a preparation for violence. I know that violence may be salutary to us, especially if in the midst of it we do not lose sight of normal order and calm.

Order leads to eternal rest. Violence makes life go round. We have, for our object, order and eternal rest; but without the violence which lets loose reserves of energy, we should be too inclined to consider order as already attained. But anticipated order can only be a lethargy which retards the coming of positive order.

Our sufferings arise only from our disappointment in this delay; the coming of true order is too long for human patience. In any case, however suffering, we would rather not be doers of violence. It is as when matter in fusion solidifies too quickly and in the wrong shape: it has to be put to the fire again. This is the part violence plays in human evolution; but that salutary violence must not make us forget what our æsthetic citizenship had acquired in the way of perdurable peace and harmony. But our suffering comes precisely from the fact that we do not forget it!

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

afternoon (in a billet).

What shall I say to you on this strange January afternoon, when thunder is followed by snow?

Our billet provides us with many commodities, but above all with an intoxicating beauty and poetry. Imagine a lake in a park sheltered by high hills, and a castle, or, rather, a splendid country house. We lodge in the domestic offices, but I don’t need any wonderful home comforts to perfect the dream-like existence that I have led here for three days. Last night we were visited by some singers. We were very far from the music that I love, but the popular and sentimental tunes were quite able to replace a finer art, because of the ardent conviction of the singer. The workman who sang these songs, which were decent, in fact moral (a rather questionable moral, perhaps, but still a moral), so put his soul into it that the timbre of his voice was altogether too moving for our hostesses. Here are the ideal people: perhaps their ideal may be said not to exist and to be purely negative, but months of suffering have taught me to honour it.

I have just seen that Charles Péguy died at the beginning of the war. How terribly French thought will have been mown down! What surpasses our understanding (and yet what is only natural) is that civilians are able to continue their normal life while we are in torment. I saw in the Cri de Paris, which drifted as far as here, a list of concert programmes. What a contrast! However, mother dear, the essential thing is to have known beauty in moments of grace.

The weather is frightful, but one can feel the coming of spring. At a time like this nothing can speak of individual hope, only of great general certainties.

Mina “Jerry” McDonald

Innsbruck, Austria

Innsbruck, Austria

Please note date is approximate: 

In the evening many friends, British and Austrian, gathered at the station to see our party leave, and give us messages to friends at home ; and though it was very obvious that it was an English party that was leaving for England, we experienced nothing even approaching rudeness at the station. My companion in the sleeping-car was a very bright Vienna lady, who at once began to talk. Where was I going ? She was going to Innsbruck, did I know Innsbruck, the most beautiful place in the Tirol? Ah, I was going to Geneva: for winter-sports probably ? Had I ever winter-sported before? Ah, in Galicia, just where the big battles were being fought now, and the Ruthenes, what were they like? I had straightway to tell her what I knew about Galicia and the Ruthenes; in return for which she told me what she thought of the war, saying that though I came from Hungary I must not imagine things were going so well for “us” as one imagined there. The Hungarian’s blind trust in Germany would find itself betrayed one day.

In Vienna their eyes were open to the appalling difficulties that lay before them. Even if the Germans should help them to put the Russians out of Galicia, where would Austria find herself? Geographically in the same position as she was at the outbreak of the war, but broken and bankrupt, and absolutely dependent on Germany for her future life. And it would be more than Germany could do to save her own life, for didn’t everybody know that she too was bleeding to death, more slowly than Austria perhaps, but none the less surely.

“Are you anti-Austrian, then? ” I asked sternly.

“No, I am not. I am as loyal as everybody is in Vienna ; but we are not stupid, and know when we have been tricked. You Hungarians have helped us on to this war with your mad pro-Germanism, hoping that Germany will help you to your independence; perhaps you think you will be better off as the slave of Germany in future? ”

“Of course,” I interrupted from above, “you’re taking my pro-German sympathies for granted. I’ve not expressed them, and I’m not so pro-German as you imagine.”

We talked well into the night, then slept soundly till morning, when we went through to the dining-car together for breakfast. The English ladies were already there, and I stopped to talk to them. As I joined my Vienna friend at the table she had reserved for us, she asked who those ladies were and if I knew them.

“I do. They are like me returning to England now.”

“But, but you’re not British’? The sleeping-car attendant told me a Hungarian lady had taken the other berth,” she gasped, thinking probably of how very frankly she had spoken on the previous night of the critical state of her country.

I could not help laughing at her confusion as I explained that the attendant’s mistake arose through my ticket being taken in the Princess’s name. In the end she also laughed, and was very interested to know exactly the treatment I had received in Hungary, “for,” she said, “I am sure that all one reads in the press about British cruelty to enemy aliens is lies, and I should be sorry if British people had bad reports of us to take back to England.”

I would not allow that British people in Austria had no grievances at all, but I did assure her that I received very great kindness, and that all my experiences so far had been thoroughly enjoyable. “Of course,” I said, ” there’s still the frontier,” and I felt my spirit grow sick as I thought of it; my delight of the previous day in Feldkirch and the Alps waned as the objects of it approached.

“Na, this isn’t Germany. Our people will be very nice at the frontier. You may be quite sure that anything unkind that is done to British people in Austria comes, I’m sorry to say, from Berlin; ” and the train entering Innsbruck she rose to go, leaving
me no end of good wishes for a pleasant journey.

Mina McDonald crossed the border into Switzerland and returned via France to the United Kingdom. In 1916 her account  Some Experiences in Hungary.was published.