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.

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

morning (in the trench).

I hope that when you think of me you will have in mind all those who have left everything behind: their family, their surroundings, their whole social environment; all those of whom their nearest and dearest think only in the past, saying, ‘We had once a brother, who, many years ago, withdrew from this world, we know nothing of his fate.’ Then I, feeling that you too have abandoned all human attachment, will walk freely in this life, closed to all ordinary relations.

I don’t regret my new rank; it has brought me many troubles but a great deal of experience, and, as a matter of fact, some ameliorations.

So I want to continue to live as fully as possible in this moment, and that will be all the easier for me if I can feel that you have brought yourself to the idea that my present life cannot in any way be lost.

I did not tell you enough what pleasure the Revues Hebdomadaires gave me. I found some extracts from that speech on Lamartine which I am passionately fond of. Circumstances led this poet to give to his art only the lowest place. Life in general closed him round, imposing on his great heart a more serious and immediate task than that which awaited his genius.

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

. . . My consolations fail me in these days, on account of the weather. This horrible mess lets me see nothing whatever. I close with an ardent appeal to our love, and in the certainty of a justice higher than our own. . . .

Dear mother, as to sending things, I am really in need of nothing. Penury now is of another kind, but courage, always! Yet is it even sure that moral effort bears any fruit?