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From Miniatures of French History, by Hilaire Belloc, New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1926; pp. 201-246.

Miniatures of French History
Hilaire Belloc

Part  VI.


(May 6, 1708)

A FINE day in May, and the spring had been early that year. The trees were well out. A soft wind under a benignant sun came up from the valley of the Seine, through the woods, and blessed the formal new greatness of Marly; the splendour and melancholy of the great water-basins, the majesty of the walls, were still new. The trees had not yet that height which adds nobility to the noble lines of the place. But already there was upon it the stamp of so great a reign. Largeness and order and perfection of proportion were everywhere.

The palace stood alone, its dependencies grouped about it with a space between. The front court and approach were deserted; but in the grounds behind groups had formed: knots of courtiers were discussing some coming thing, and all the life of the monarchy was disturbed in that fine spring leisure, both in the great rooms of the palace and in the gardens.

Twelve pavilions or lodges stood in formal order round behind the main building, the lawns 248 between. They were habitations for men and women favoured of the king. Before one of these stood a man whose long acquaintance with affairs on the one hand, with the Court upon the other, had not quite rid him of awkwardness; for he remembered his humble birth. It was Desmarets, the Controller of Finance, a man of fifty. By his side, of equal age, stood, simply dressed, demure, but a little sullen, a stout figure, odd in such surroundings — Bernard the Jew. One or two others talked to him, some commonplaces or other, as they thus stood before the pavilion. It looked like a chance group; yet it was designed. And why it was designed one must go back some weeks, some months, to understand.

*             *             *             *             *

Desmarets, coming back to the control of Louis XIV.’s finance in the winter before that spring, in the February, knew not which way to turn for monies in the conduct of the war. He bethought him of one who had become the richest man in Europe — Bernard the Banker.

He knew his task to be difficult: the credit of the king was bad, the war was a bottomless pit, swallowing million after million, the security of the taxes was exhausted; he also knew Bernard 249 by repute: that repute was not in favour of the task.

Bernard was a man notoriously cold in judgment — and notoriously right. So it was that he had built up his immense wealth. He had been born the son of an artist, an etcher and engraver, indifferent to anything but his art. He had been born the son of one of those Jewish men of talent, whose every mark it is to concentrate wholly upon the business of their lives, without concern for wealth, or even (very much) for fame. From such a beginning, young in such surroundings, Samuel Bernard the younger had re-acted toward a patient accumulation of gold. His art, his task, had been that. Amply had he succeeded; but when Desmarets approached him in the desperate crisis of that year, not a gold piece was forthcoming.

In those days men were free, and the rulers of a state could not ruin them for a whim — even a whim of war. How, then, was Bernard to be persuaded?

Desmarets had seen the king, and what followed here at Marly was the fruit of what the king had heard.

Desmarets had told the king that not a gold piece was forthcoming.


Bernard was hard as a rock. He had wasted no time in courtesy. He had not even wasted time on insult; he had not sneered with the sneer that is common to such occasions. He had said, simply and briefly enough, that there was no security. Where might not such a beginning lead? The money would be poured out like water upon sand. The war was interminable, and the people could bear no more taxes. In our time a man like Desmarets could have threatened. In that time he could not threaten, but he bethought himself of something else, and it was upon this something else that he had spoken to the king.

Hence it was, these few months after, in the opening of the spring, in the May following that February, that he, Desmarets, and Bernard, happened to be standing near the pavilion at the back of the palace of Marly. Bernard sullen, as I have said, and wondering whey he had been asked here to no purpose; Desmarets affecting indifference and lesiure, but inwardly on thorns.

Just as this waiting of theirs was getting too awkward (Desmarets wondering how much longer it would last, Bernard wondering what it was all about, and almost proposing to go) there appeared, sauntering towards them with dignity 251 and at leisure, speaking in low tones to the couple that were with him (and who showed an exaggerated deference in their demeanour), a man of singular appearance.

It was the king.

He was seventy years of age. His years showed, not in his gait (for that had always been leisurely and dignified), nor in his carriage, for his pride kept him upright to the end; nor even in his body, dressed as it was for his part. He had a double chin, but not exaggerated; the strong, continuous line of his arched nose and high forehead showed now in profile even more than they had done in his youth; his mouth was firm; his eyes, though veiled with age, were still vigorous. Where you saw the approach of his end was in the fatigue of the face at its sides — the many wrinkles at the corners of the eyes, the weakening flesh of the cheeks, and the slight droop at the corners of the lips. But a man accustomed throughout a lifetime to full command, and commanding with vigour and with judgment, he remained to the end inspired by such a spiritual posture. He was about to demean himself spiritually very much indeed, but the garments, the exteriors of dignity, he never lost.

When he had come within a few yards of 252 Desmarets and of Bernard, he looked up as though surprised to see them, while they uncovered and bowed.

“Why, Desmarets,” said he, “whom have you here?”

“It is Mr. Samuel Bernard.”

“I thought as much. . . . Mr. Bernard,” Louis added, as though it were a sudden thought and a pleasant one, “I wonder if you have ever looked round my gardens here at Marly?”

The king’s companions stepped back somewhat, and left him alone with those other two. Bernard replied with an awed mumble. . . . His whole being was filled with the greatness of the occasion.

It was one thing to be proud of his money and to found himself upon it solidly in his office with some fellow or other who had risen to the control of the finance, and who might be called Desmarets. It was another to be in the presence of Louis XIV. He felt himself a little weak at the knees, and yet happy to be in a new heavenly world. He bowed awkwardly again at the wrong time, and once again he mumbled.

“Why,” said the old king, with a false sprightliness and affected gaiety, “you must see my gardens. . . . Come with me. . . . Desmarets,” 253 he added, turning to the courtier with an assumed east, “I will not deprive you long of Mr. Bernard’s company; I am sure you will be eager to have him back. I only want to show him the gardens.”

Desmarets bowed again in a trained manner, Bernard awkwardly; and the king took Bernard off to see the gardens: a nice little way-mark in the social history of Europe!

One companion the king kept with him as a sort of foil, for with Bernard alone he would have felt like a man alone with a monster. Louis dared not trust himself with Bernard alone, therefore did he keep that one companion as a foil. But the companion was to remain silent while Louis did the honours.

“Are not they well chosen, these chestnuts? Not one has failed!.  . . They are young yet, Mr. Bernard. You will see them grow tall. . . . But I am an old man. . . . Their alignment is perfect.”

Bernard said in a husky voice, forcing himself to speak, “All these hills are market-garden country. The soil is good. The best trees are nourished here. . . .” Then he added, “Sire,” and gulped.

The king approved his judgment.


“You are right, Mr. Bernard,” he said, trying to be as little pompous as he could. “You are curiously right. . . . It is a most interesting view.” He then added (lying), “Few have remarked this. It is most interesting that you should have remarked it. We have here at Marly an excellent soil for the rapid growth of great trees. Now I see there a poplar: we have also poplars . . . But their arrangement seems to me a little spoilt by the cross paths. There is something irregular about the genius of these trees. I should have had them set farther back, as with a hint of forestry.”

Saying this, the king halted, leaned back, gazed at the unoffending poplars with severity, then turned, looked at Bernard, and smiled painfully.

“Your Majesty is right,” said Bernard. “you are right . . .” (correcting himself), “Sire.”

The banker had not meant the phrase to be blunt, yet Louis restrained himself like a man who feels a sudden pain; then he continued rapidly, and as though to forget what had just passed, — 

“You have studied gardens, Mr. Bernard?” (Without waiting for an answer) “They are the most charming of studies. They never grow stale. There is a book I must show you” (he shuddered 255 inwardly as he said it), “the plans of which perpetually please me, though they are only plans. I conjure up gardens as I look at them. One is at Tarbles. . . . I shall never see it” (a little sadly), “but I almost seem to know it from the plans.”

Bernard answered, “One must always see the plan first,“ and there was silence for a full sixty seconds as they continued that mortal progress. But Bernard had already trod on air for all his bulk and for all his furious shyness in such company.

The king, without glancing sideways (which would have been an unkingly thing to do), gauged in his mind the distance between the place which they had reached and the point to which they must return. He decided to suggest the return.

Now when the king would suggest a change of direction from one path to another, those of the Court needed no direction. Their eyes were upon the master, who was also the nation, and, for that matter, the summit of Europe; and while they said this or that, in the careful with of their time, they saw exactly which way the royal hands waved, and which way the royal feet were turning.

Not so Bernard; he had not the habit. Therefore, 256 when the steps of Louis turned to the right, to go back towards the pavilion by the farther path, the banker almost stumbled into the king.

Louis with perfect restraint, half halted for a moment. Bernard recovered himself an murmured an apology of the middle classes. The king was too well-bred even to hear it, and the retreat upon Marly began.

There was no awkwardness. The same fatuous phrases — or if not fatuous, only not fatuous because there was tradition behind the whole affair — proceeded one after the other from the lips of France; the same rare, uncertain agreement, increasingly filed with awe, came, murmured rather than spoken, from the lips of Bernard.

He was returned to Desmarets. The goods were delivered.

It had been a wonderful quarter of an hour for Bernard! The king had shewn him Marly! He could say all his life, and his children could say to their children, “The king himself took me all round his gardens at Marly!” To tell the full truth, he hardly knew what he had seen. He remembered six young chestnuts and a mist of poplars, and he had been conscious of a Presence 257 always there upon is left, and that he was making history.

Already Bernard was a different man. The king, lingering just enough to make the parting easy, moved off, erect, and, as it would have seemed to a very acute observer, a little less restrained. A very acute observer would have noted in the gesture of his arms and in the carriage of his body, as Louis moved off, something of relief. But only a very acute observer could have noticed this. It was the slightest of slight changes.

Meanwhile Bernard, left behind, had become voluble. He began to talk at large upon Marly, upon the glories of the gardens. He bored Desmarets most damnably, but Desmarets affected an equal eagerness, pretended surprise, put on a familiar astonishment at each new detail, and with slow, familiar steps took Bernard back to his sumptuous carriage at the gates. He held his smile well back as the banker was helped into the cushions by absurdly obsequious servants. He saw the splendid four horses stamp off down the big cobblestones of the yard.

The man gone, Desmarets sat himself down frankly, without ceremony, upon a bench, as though to rest from a great strain. A courtier 258 came up to him. He did not rise. The courtier said, — 

“That’s all over!”

But Desmarets answered, — 

“There is much more in Bernard than one might think. . . . I like him.” Which was a lie.”

And a very few days later the Crown began its drain of nine millions upon Bernard.


(October 1759)

THERE is a great house which stood once in the woods of a small village some three miles from Versailles. It still stands, and woods about it. I know it well.

It is built in the majestic and sober manner of its time — not quite two hundred years ago; airy, in great suites of rooms, with the windows lighting them from either side. The ground falls away from before it in a park with tall trees forming a sweep of descending lawn, and is faced by the enclosing hills, where the trees hide all but the summit of a long, arched aqueduct, which furnished the fountains of the king’s palace. The west illumines that slope at evening; the summer sun sets behind the arches of that old, high aqueduct on its ridges of the hills, and far away beyond, miles away, are the farther hills, which are the threshold of the Vexin; while to the right, to the northwards, lies mistedly the plain of the Seine. In this house, in the very heart of the eighteenth century, and in the crisis of its fate, Louis, the king of France, the fifteenth of that 260 name, sat waiting by the fire; for it was autumn, and they had brought in chestnut logs from the woods and lit them.

The coach stood outside the glass-roofed porch, having just brought its master — for he had come suddenly, capriciously, without warning, as was his habit in these last years — and the Pompadour was within.

He sat there waiting for her, putting out his hands in a simple gesture towards the fire, unwatched, alone; his fine deep eyes were full of mood and reverie, and also of the beginnings of despair; but he had come for companionship.

The brief two years of passion, the three years of intimacy, had passed, but something more enduring remained in that strange soul which could not tear itself away from any roots, and yet could not act: full of energy within, of emotion, even of desire; but lacking the strength to pierce that shell which cursedly fenced it from the outside world. There he sat, waiting for the Pompadour, and still putting out his hands to the warmth of the fire after the damp coldness of that autumn drive.

In the vestibule without, four gentlemen whispered; and in the far staircases of the place a 261 discreet servant had brought the message to his friend.

Before that fire, less lonely for his loneliness, the last of the undisturbed kings, the last secure king of that tremendous line, communed with his own mind.

It was not a communion of despair, though despair was creeping in to the outer parts of his soul; it was a communion of hopeless fatigue — not fatigue as yet of the body, but an impossible fatigue of the soul; his body was still strong; his soul could still perfectly use that instrument — yet there was nothing left; he had tried all things. He had discovered in childhood how this half-divine position cut him off from men. He had hated, he had accepted, he had used his isolation; he had tried to be two men — and the end of that is destruction. He had tried to be what all his duty should make him, and yet to be a man surrounded by habits and by a domestic air. Under the twin effort he had fallen to be a man entirely alone, yet with certain friends; yet with one friend — no longer a lover, but notedly a friend.

The restlessness which came of his unhappy mood stirred him as he thus sat alone. He swung up suddenly from his chair, turned round, peered here and there at ornaments in the room before 262 him, looked closely at a piece of Chinese work upon a shelf, thought it odd, yet discovered at once its genius; then strolled to the long window upon his right, and looked with eyes too full of reminiscence towards the aqueduct and the wooded hill. The autumn evening was reddening, but there was sun behind the clouds, and, far on the horizon, a shaft of light against which St. Germains stood delicately. . . . All his life had run in that little groove of one countryside — the Parisis. He had lost power to feel other things, and yet he remembered one or two longer drives, and he smiles as he thought of the noise, the peril, the wind, the acclamations of Fontenoy, and the repose of that battle-evening after victory.

It was more than four years gone; he was in the fifth year from that great day. But five years seems long in what is still the active middle of life. Too soon was he to know how five years would race by in the degradation of sense, when the later years of a man have led him into a closed labyrinth of lust.

As he still stood looking to the north through the window across that afternoon autumn air, with the majesty of the high trees framing his 263 landscape, he heard a step he thought he knew. His attitude changed. He started round. It died away again. She was long in coming!

He felt the chill of his place, and, sensitive to every slight impression of the body, long steeped in immediate enjoyment of every detail of luxury, he moved at once instinctively back to that chair before the fire and sat him down again; but this time leaning backwards, his arms on the arms of the gilded thing that supported him, and a deeper reverie in his eyes.

The chestnut logs had caught; they made a murmuring which effaced time and were a sort of lullaby. For some few moments he did not know that he was waiting for a step and a voice, though they were those of a friend. For some few moments he did but dream, and there passed before his mind certain odd convictions which inhabited it; and certain common terrors; both of these stood against a background of disappointment and of nothingness. . . . None of his line could be lost . . . none of his line could be lost. . . . St. Louis had baptized them all into a sort of security. . . . If only the poor were not oppressed, if only he were always master of the rich, and a true king, his soul would be at last 264 secure. . . . Nor was he too much to blame. These awful and remote dignities of kingship must be counterweighted by something human; it was a crying need; and affection, though passing, was still affection. . . . There was no gallery of faces in his mind . . . he had been good to all these women, and would be good to all to come.

But there had now come upon him friendship. Though the particular love had passed and all its habits, friendship remained; and friendship, even to a man so jaded, was a profound thing.

Even as he thus mused he heard the step which was unmistakable, and a particular voice greeting his gentlemen without salutations in the vestibule. That charming voice answered their respect without any insolence and yet with a certain frankness which was properly bred of a great, a thoroughly exalted place now long enjoyed. Then the tall white-and-gilt door was opened — one leaf of it — by a hand delicate and poised, shut at once, and he took her hands.

Now at last he was at home, and for some few minutes the intolerable tedium, the inexorable weight of what life had come to be for him, would be lifted; the voice was enough for that, and the 265 gestures, and the more than kindness of the face; the sympathy in everything of the senses, and common memories apparently unregretted, and permitting her apparently (he did not deceive himself, he believed it, though to her it was bitter enough), a powerful abandonment of the past.

She had all that remains of youth in the beginning of her maturity, which endeared her the more to him, and an acquiescence in this new relation, in this frank friendship, which yet again endeared her to him. Yes . . . he was sure . . . affection was a stronger motive with her than mere desire to retain a power in great affairs, though this she also loved.

That fresh, that musical, that companionable voice soothed him, supported him, and nourished him; he was steeped in home.

So those two sat together before that fire, using little names they had used for so many years; he receiving what he had never known with any other — I mean the maternity and the sisterhood of women, so strongly reinforced by recently remembered, recently practised love. She alone could ask him, without his first speaking, whether he would not remain. (In the kitchens towards the Ménage what courses had she not prepared!) But the Furies were upon him again, the cold 266 Furies of the body and of the soul, the Furies of exhausted passions, which led to no end, the Furies of the flesh. He could not rest; he rose again. They had been together twenty minutes. It was enough for him, and he could not think of her save as in relation to himself. Yet was this man not selfish, only cursed; but this curse could not now be lifted. He might once have conjured it away, not so long ago — it was now too late.

The gentlemen in the vestibule drew themselves up as they heard his step, not stiffly, but with just that rectitude which marked the obeisance of great names to their master, and he and she went out, talking almost gaily, to the doors of the coach. He gave her an appointment, not for the morrow, for he had public business that he hated, but for the morrow after, and at Versailles. He needed her advice with the envoys, and she must meet these foreigners. Whereat they smiled at each other. Then went he into his coach, and his gentlemen with him. They drove up to the great iron gates before this little palace; they turned to the right along the road to Versailles.

She went about her business in the house; she 267 could not help but listen with a part of her mind, strangely detached though it were, to the last clatter of the horses beyond the wall; and neither he nor she understood that the monarchy had been wasted, lost, thrown away.


(October 16, 1777)

THE 16th of October is a date of some import in French annals. On that day Marie Antoinette was killed before her Tuileries gardens. On that day was Wattignies won: “The chief feat of arms of the Republic.” On that day also — years before — were done, in three widely distant places, four very different acts; if we see these acts, first each separate, then all combined, they show us the magnitude and the irony of our lives. Sharply do these four acts in these three places illuminate the story of France and of the world.

*             *             *             *             *

For now two years the American colonies of England had been in organized rebellion. The lingering of that war, its distance, its varied and (in the eyes of Europe) petty episodes, had arrested but not determined opinion. The enemies of England had watched it at first with hope, then with anxiety, and at last with tedium. It dragged 269 out; its issue became more and more clear. The rebels all together made up not half the colonists. Their active forces were but a small fraction of the total manhood. Their failure was foredoomed.

The French monarchy (the great but increasingly embarrassed counterweight to the growing power of London) had missed its chance to strike. The issue was now certain: the colonies (already secured through the defeat of the French before Quebec but a few years ago) would now fall back to the English crown. No solid judgment could doubt that. The drama was ending.

The very young King of France — large, lethargic, slow to comprehend and slower to decide — had earned (over and above the effect of such disabilities) the contempt of his immediate servants. It was not for nothing that Louis XVI. was ponderous with German blood. To all this was added a public negligence, for he had (and it was said, could have) no heir. His young queen had entered that road of abrupt, nervous dissipation, had sown that undeserved enmity, which together would lead on to such a close. The whole air of the Court already threatened. The great strains were at work beneath the even ritual and weighted grandeur of what still governed the 270 nation: the brick behind the encrusted marble was giving way.

The end approached; but, before it came, an accident — a side effect — was to arise. It seemed but a divergence at the time. It proved itself, in its conclusion, something almost as large as the revolution itself.

*             *             *             *             *

It was Thursday, the 16th of October, in the palace of Fontainebleau. The Court of France had withdrawn thither for the autumn’s hunting. Its concern was with its own splendour and with its innumerable personal dramas. No large affair was toward.

The season was benignant, the woods were still gorgeous, the forest beyond the palace was full of fruition and repose; something of a late summer still lingered.

There had been hunting in the rides between the trees that day, but long before sunset the most tardy of the followers had returned, their mud upon them. Evening had come, the horses were stabled, the day’s work was long over. The magnificence of the public banquet was extinguished; even the eternal card-playing had tired itself out, and the silence had come. In their 271 distant rooms two separate men began to work alone: each to think in silence before he put pen to paper. One was Vergennes, the other Goltz.

Vergennes, Foreign Minister to the King of France, a man of sixty, tried, careful, covered his face with his hand as he sat and wove within his mind. His every energy had been bent to the undoing of the war which had lost Canada — and much more. He sought an issue and he found none. There had been a moment. . . . There had been a moment. . . . Best when the formal declaration of independence was known in Europe: recoverable that summer when the ships with the American envoys on board had been seen from the British coast. But the moment had passed. . . . He saw no issue. He considered the play of the forces in Europe. He considered the decision of his master, the king. He saw, as in a picture, the fleets and their balanced powers, the prestige, the promptitude of the British admirals. He felt, like the memory of a voice, the hesitation of any king to help rebels in arms. He remembered the way in which the Spanish Court (Bourbons also) had failed them. He feared it would fail them still. Spain would not move. He stirred a moment, as though to rise and seek some paper in a drawer. He lifted his 272 hand from his eyes and blinked at the candlelight. Then he sank back again. Of what purport could it be to find the precise words? His one ally, the Spanish Court, had failed him and would fail him. Perhaps they were right. The American colonies could now claim no friends. Their sovereign was too strong, and, after all, his rule was legitimate. The British would make good at last.

All such meditation done, the man changed his place, pulled his chair up towards the desk, settled his papers, and set him down to write. It was more than deep night. For all the fast shut windows and heavy curtains, one could smell the early morning. There was no sound in the vast house. All slept (he thought) save him. In such a silence and such a darkness he put down his judgment — that the Ministers of George III. now thought themselves independent of the world; that while it was true that the two Bourbon Courts must go warily, yet had he worked hard and felt broken hearted. He paused a moment in his writing, then set down, to guide himself, what was true enough, “He had no with for war. . . . But neither had he any wish for humiliation. But what should he do if the triumphant British Government demanded of him 273 that he should treat the Americans as outlaws and as pirates?” It was an inconclusive jumble: no more than the fixing of his mind by repetition of what he had written publicly that day. Not often do men of such powers leave work of such sort incomplete. But he left it thus; summoned his servant, who had fallen asleep in the room without, and himself went through the great doors to the inner room to sleep.

In that same night, in another room, far more simply furnished, the envoy of the Prussian king — Goltz — entered, in his precise idiom and hand, another conclusion, which showed how all minds at that instant worked together. He wrote down that the French had had their opportunity and had lost it, and that George III. was now secure in the mastery of the two worlds.

In Madrid, on that same night, Florida Blanca wrote for his master also. He drafted advice, and made a memorandum of the advice he had drafted. It was advice to his colleague of the Court of France. It was a judgment of the King of Spain for his brother Bourbon of France. There was but one thing to be done — regrettable, no doubt, but necessary. Perhaps there had been a chance, but the chance was lost. The immediate, the practical, unquestioned concern of any 274 sane man now was to walk very carefully where Britain was concerned. Everything must be forgone which could even raise complaint from St. James’s, for said he to himself, as he rose from this brief exercise and made also himself for his own chamber: “The thing is now settled and history cannot be re-written. It would have been better otherwise, no doubt, but the American Colonies are destined to be British Colonies again, and for ever. All that talk I have heard young men indulge in, of a new State beyond the Atlantic, is young men’s talk.”

At that phrase he smiled, and in his turn summoned his servants and went to his repose.

*             *             *             *             *

But in the woods above the Hudson Valley, on the heights of Saratoga, on the same Thursday, the 16th of October, 1777, a lost body of only four thousand effectives all told, under the British general Burgoyne, with its guns (not three dozen left), had completed its surrender to the colonial levies. And in much those same hours of which I speak, those European midnight hours and hours of the early morning, the late evening of the West had seen this small thing quite completed. A little force, such a force as to-day we 275 might almost put upon a couple of transports, had laid down its arms to an uncertain gathering of irregulars.

And what a consequence!

Some three weeks later a rumour was abroad, no one knew why it came, or how. Another week and men asked why it was that Ministers in England said nothing of the Hudson, and spoke only of successes elsewhere. Moved by we know not what instinct, Vergennes sat him down at last and wrote a note insisting that the new State should be recognized.

It was the 4th of December. Upon the very morrow the full news was known. Upon the 6th the young king — Heaven knows with what hesitation and with what future regrets — put, in his large round hand, at the foot of that document, “Approved.” Upon the 8th Franklin and his companions, sitting at Passy, wrote out and signed their acceptance of the French Alliance.


(November 17, 1843 - July 18, 1848)

CHATEAUBRIAND was in England. He was at 35 Berkeley Square —  a very old man (he was in his seventy-fifth year), and nearer the tomb than he knew. His legs, very thin and feeble, supported him ill. His hands, gouty and knotted, trembled a little. Even his fine eyes had lost much of their brilliance. He stopped in his slow walk, but he was supported by pride. He had determined to return to England where, fifty years before, in the eagerness of his young manhood, he had first loved. For of all his unstable, self-reflecting, unrooted adventures in those affairs, two only left something permanent with him — one the parson’s daughter of his youth in Bungay, and the other the strong friendship of his last hours. He returned to the country where he had been ambassador and in the height of his fame.

It was the heir of France in exile who had bidden him come, and it was certainly in loyalty to the throne — to that immemorial line, to that institution which was the soul of his country, to 276 the Capetians — that the old man had made the journey. It was not for memories of Bungay, still less for memories of the Embassy.

It was November — the most lonely month of the year. It was the 27th of that month. Chateaubriand had already been in London three days. The young heir of France in exile, the Comte de Chambord, bade him to that house, giving him for his use all the ground floor (for the great man dared not face stairs, though he still could move), and when, the next day, the prince received, he had himself helped and carried up to the main room, where a crowded mass of curious English, of loyal or interested French, passed before the prince in exile and bowed in turn to him. At the back of that crowd the Comte de Chambord saw, standing with difficulty among the rest in the press, the figure of that man whom he had brought at such a season overseas. He moved towards him at once, vigorously and spontaneously; without care for his own position at the moment; eager to salute the man whose greatness he sincerely recognized, whose usefulness to the throne had been a tradition for that younger generation (the prince was but twenty-three), and whose name was at the moment greater than any other name in France. He took 278 both his poor gouty hands and said Chateaubriand must not stand. He put a chair for him. He told him, without flattery, that he depended upon his presence.

There was no one in that room like him, and Chateaubriand himself complained how many French had stayed away from fear — he had also complained, without reason, that official England had shunned the exile — there was no one in that room, I say, but saw two figures supreme among them: the exile, who later might, if he would, have been king; and that old man of the laurels, who knew himself, and was known by all of them already, to be a sort of immortal — such a pen had he.

The reception was over, the blaze of candles extinguished, the old man had been helped back again to his rooms below. He took paper and, as best he could with his failing fingers, noted the points of what next day he must dictate — as next day he did — to his last friend. Next day also that long letter was written and remains to us. It has a phrase upon the Comte de Chambord, upon Henry V., which is not to be forgotten: — 

“The kings would have done well to have saluted this young ghost of a time outworn. 279 They would have done well not to insult, as he passed, a traveller who had nothing to show but a broken sceptre in his hand. They laughed: they did not see that the world has grown tired of them, and that time will force them at last to take the same road as has been taken by the great royal line which protected them all and lent them a life which fails them now.”

*             *             *             *             *

Chateaubriand was in the rue du Bac, in those rooms on the ground floor where he was to end. The great windows opened upon a town garden, dark with trees in spite of the light of July.

His friend Jeanne Françoise Récamier, was awaiting, herself in old age, ready to join him again.

Everything that he had been, all that he had made up himself — his vivacity and changeableness of love, and tenacious hate — seemed to have departed, and he lay a though he had already fallen into the power of death, though his eyes still shone. He heard, but with difficulty. He spoke hardly at all, and then in but few, murmuring words. Over his paralysed body they had thrown a coverlet, upon which his hands lay still. He was waiting for the advent of the friend 280 whose friendship alone remained to him of life. But she herself, who had been the most famous of beautiful women as he had been the most famous of lyrical men, had come also to the term of things; and those eyes of hers, which had held captive a generation, were now nearly blind. As he so lay, awaiting her, there returned to his weakened mind a certain phrase of his own writing not so long before, where he had spoken of human affection and had said of love that time changes our hearts as it does our complexion and our years. Nevertheless there is one exception amid all this infirmity of human things, for it does come about sometimes that in some strong soul one love lasts long enough to be transformed into a passionate friendship, to take on the qualities of duty, and almost those of virtue. Then does love lose the decadence of our nature and lives on, supported by an immortal principle.

She to whom — or rather, round whom — those words were written was brought in, a ghost of the past, as he was a ghost of the past, to sit by him as he lay there, silent and deafened, on the edge of death. There could pass very little between them. They had neither of them the strength to speak at any length: nor she in a voice which he could hear well, nor he in a voice 281 strong enough to reach her ears. But her presence was a final consolation.

When she left him after that singular interval of communion and silence he slept a little, and the next day he knew that his end had come.

It was Sunday, the 2nd of July. Outside, in the streets, the noise of the popular revolt had hardly died down, and contrasted with that too great energy of sound and of young fury was this silent room opening upon the garden, and the figure lying there. He asked in a whisper for the Sacraments — he who had said in a phrase which showed the man like lightning: “No Christian believes as I do, nor is any man more sceptical than I.”

On the next day, Monday, the 3rd, his life still dragged on and diminished, yet he whispered to his nephew, who took down the words from his lips: “I declare before God my retraction of all there may be in my writings contrary to the Faith, to good morals, and in general to the principles which are conservative of good.” And his nephew put down beneath those lines: “Signed for my uncle, who hand can no longer sign.” He had the declaration read to him; he tried to read it with his own failing eyes. Yet another night dragged on; but it was not until Tuesday, 282 the 4th, that he died, and there had come back to that death-bed the friend, the old woman — Madame Récamier. Besides her there was but his nephew, his confessor, and a Sister of Charity. It was a little after eight in the morning. The priest and the Sister of Charity were kneeling at the end of the bed; the two others stood and saw his passing.

So he died.

*             *             *             *             *

A fortnight later, upon Tuesday, July 18, 1848, they brought the body of Chateaubriand for burial to the place which he had chosen. That insecure, moving, intense soul of his was steeped in its own time, thinking that sublime which to-day we think grotesque, and which to-morrow our descendants may think sublime again. He had determined, in his passion for things both singular and glorious, in his vanity, but also in his love of greatness, upon a peculiar tomb, and it was now to receive him.

The Cathedral of Saint Malo was filled with the sailors of the place, with peasants come in from the countryside, with the clergy of the province, with all the officials of the town and even of Rennes — a vast crowd. They laid the coffin in 283 the Chapel of the Sacred Heart, blazing with candles, and all that afternoon and all night long, the crowd kept pouring in to pass by this lying-in-state and to pray, in a stream that did not end hour after hour.

On the next day, the Wednesday after the last Mass to be said over him, the runners harnessed the horses, and the whole train set out for that rock which is an island at high tide and in which his tomb had been cut. It had been placed for him alone, and he had ordered — a last singularity — that there should be no name or inscription upon it whatsoever. As they laid him in his tomb the guns sounded a last salute, the walls of the city were covered with men and women watching that strange sight, and even the rocks to seaward and along the shore were black with people. They say that fifty thousand stood by and saw the sight.

And there he is to-day; and no one can say at all whether, with the passage of time, he who was at that moment the greatest of the great will become greater still, or insignificant.


(June 1870)

IN the height of a scorching summer, in June 1870, a young man, tall, lean, long in features, active in gesture, something fanatical, with deep-set and fixing eyes, pushed a perambulator (of all things!) along a pavement of the South Bank in Paris. By his side was the mother of the child: nor was she his wife.

I have said “young man,” but in years he was a boy. He was but twenty years old. That household he had set up was a curious adventure indeed. His parents, as he thought, knew nothing of it; and perhaps he was right. The strict laws of the French family would have forbidden a marriage. But his allowance was sufficient and his happiness was complete. At that age one is immortal; and as he lived in an undefeated society at the height of its hope and wealth, as he had himself hope and wealth beneath him in the largest measure for his foundation, nothing mattered but the intensity of his affection in this opening of his life.

There he was, in this comically small domestic 285 manner, at the summit of whatever this life can bring, and trusting rightly to chance for the regulation of all things.

It was, I say, in the middle of that burning summer, and if the foreign affairs of the country were talked of at all (after small but supposedly splendid foreign victories), they were for him and his like but newspaper talk. They did not touch realities between waking and sleeping.

There was this difference between him and his like — that he had in him a certain material which could catch fire, and having caught fire would blaze unfed until he should die.

Ten weeks later this young man, or boy, having volunteered, was on the field of Sedan. The capitulation was announced; the men were already beginning to pile arms, and he, by a chance, was arguing with certain bearers who were moving a body. They maintained that the man was dead; he said that he was alive. He had his way, and he proved right. This also was a sharp point in his life, which he remembered always, even more clearly than any other episode of that disaster: how, while it was yet full light, he had argued with the bearers. The man whom he had saved he kept close to years after, making 286 him a friend; for they went off as prisoners together into the Germanies.

That young man broke prison, and found his way to the Rhine and farther. He spoke no German; he did but ask his way; and when he reached his own country again he went to the nearest centre and re-enlisted.

They sent him to the Loire. All this while he had heard nothing from his own people, or from what was nearer to him than his own people. So he served through that memorable and terrible winter under Chanzy, and saw the failure to relieve the capital. In those snows he came of age.

He did not see Paris again until he came there with the rank of captain in the troops of Thiers, for the suppression of the Commune. It was against one of the last barricades, near the foot of the Northern Hill, that he received his third wound in all that fighting, national and civil. To his old age he remembered that scene as a comedy for all its slaughter. He saw himself something of a chromo-lithograph, waving a sword and leading his men, who were Bretons. He turned his face toward the barricade, and at that moment saw, peering between two stones, the face of a boy younger than himself — a boy in no 287 uniform, with a bandolier slung over the blue canvas of his blouse. He saw the boy’s musket resting on the stones and pointed towards him. He remembered that it was singularly foreshortened . . . and almost in the same instant that he saw this thing he felt as though a horse had kicked him with full strength on the left arm. He fell down, stunned, without pain; but a very few moments afterwards, as they carried him back, the pain grew intolerable. It was the worst thing he had suffered in all those months, and it was a day before the confusion of his thoughts relaxed. When his mind grew slowly clear again, he saw (more vividly than the dirty walls of the gaunt ward in which he lay) the barricade, and the boy in the blue canvas, and the fore-shortened barrel.

*             *             *             *             *

All these enormous things had run their course, and reached a settlement: the empire gone, Prussia supreme, the nation half murdered — a stillness and bitterness over everything. That which had been his life such a very little time before had ceased for him altogether. Some who read this would know too well whom I mean if I were to give the details of his misfortune, or of 288 how he followed, but only at a distance, and supported his child: of how he learnt that the mother had left him for ever.

Note this strange thing: that to this young man, even now yet in his twenty-third year, the torrents of violent emotion had settled into a sort of lake; a permanent feeling, profound, unchangeable, nourishing an unvarying output of appeal. Whatever he had lived, in whatever ways, his own small concealed home, his family for a moment estranged, his tradition and his proud name — all these had distilled into a lyrical patriotism, the fruits of which seemed at first more than half contemptible to the hard French temper about him. Those fruits took many forms. In the first place, he expended his whole self in a perpetual and open insistence upon the necessity for raising the nation against its conqueror; and this he did in a society where all such open and direct expression is greeted as insufficient and unworthy.

He acted thus, ingenuous and direct, in the midst of a Paris and of a France especially bent upon reserve, and he maintained that form of expression in spite of a much ridiculing and, what wounded him more, a patronizing affection. Through all his youth, through all his manhood, 289 on into his middle age and to the verge of old age, this exalted mood affected him to verse, most of it of the second-rate sort; all of it rhetorical; all of it sincere. You may guess how this popular versifying jarred on the critical French ear and soul.

There was no occasion during thirty years, during forty years, in which he did not make it his business to preach continually the duty of reassertion and of warring down a conqueror who had become now assured in strength and rooted, and of whose achievement and mastery there seemed at last no question. It was the moment when Renan said: “France is dying. Let us not brawl at her death-bed.”

Long after Alsace-Lorraine had become mere names to a younger generation which knew nothing of the war, through mighty civil contests of opinion and even of religion (which the French alone wage in our time), his simple note sounded continually: at first acclaimed by the poor; always ridiculed by the too-cultured or the too-fatigued: latterly almost grotesque, still sounding in a world which had completely changed. In some part of his expression he had aged prematurely. In body he was still alert, though his last illness was upon him; in the vigour of his gesture, the 290 fire of his glance, he was more than he had ever been.

By the year 1912 — so oddly do human things turn about in the short unit of one lifetime — his career, his verse, his rhetoric, his perpetual insistence, had become a sort of institution for the nation. Societies love to take those of an older generation and to make them symbols. Even his literary insufficiency was half forgiven, and men talked of him as a sort of curious relic from the days when war was possible, and when the glory of a national rehabilitation (now impossible) could be reasonably entertained. But with this position of his among his fellow-citizens (which was quaintly mixed up with the love we bear for ancient things, almost because they are odd, and largely because we are sure they can never return) there now went something of grandeur. He was now, they said, an old man; and his very insistence in harping upon so single and so unfertile a theme had given him his definite place. And just as men would say, “So and so is now our great poet, So and so our great actor, So and so this, and So and so that,” in the same way they pointed to the man now grown old and said, “He, of course, is our great patriot,” but they said it with a smile. One man, however, who 291 loved him, called him “Tyrtæus”: quizzically enough, I think.

No one thought it possible that his war would come.

His illness grew upon him fast. By one of those accidents which show the lives of men to be ordered, as the parts of an actor are ordered upon the stage, this man died just in those days before the war, when It was far too late for any man to remember great wars in Western Europe as a reality, and still some weeks too early for men to have grown uneasy and to think they already heard the guns. But as though so simple, so direct, and so very great a life were a presage, his funeral made a great picture.

There was a sort of silence after his death, like that which comes before a storm. Nor was the moment long delayed.

Upon a certain day, memorable to all of us, the Cabinet of Berlin presented a brief note to the Government of Parris. Prussia would fight in the East, and demanded as a guarantee the frontier garrisons of the French, over and above a promise of neutrality. We know the reply, and we know what followed.

The first young men to cross the frontier in arms (which was in the pine forests on the crests 292 of the Vosges) pulled up the frontier post for a trophy. There was no discussion as to what should be done with that trophy. The decision seemed inevitable. It was sent back to be set upon this man’s grave, and there I saw it the other day. It had been set up hurriedly, and was leaning a little sideways. It always remains in my mind as the most significant monument in Europe. The grave is in a small cemetery upon the country hills which lie to the west of Paris, a cemetery so domestic and of such small consequence to the little village it belongs to that no good road leads to it, but the dead of the village are brought up from the main road a quarter of a mile off by bearers who follow a rough track.

Up this track, with a ritual dear to the French people, did certain delegates bear that frontier post, as we bear dead men for whom we proclaim the resurrection. They took it through the rustic gate into that small, neglected place, and put it upon the grave of the man who had lived so strange and inartistic a life: who stirred, and was gladdened in his sleep.


The person being discussed is Paul Déroulède (Born: 2 September 1846, Died: 30 January 1914). The woman was an actress named Madeleine Brohan, and they had a son together. He was a fairly prolific writer, and wrote plays and poetry, including two books of popular patriotic songs. He also co-founded the “Ligues des Patriotes,” an organization dedicated to the Revanche: the regaining by France of Alsace and Lorraine, which were lost to the Prussians.

I discovered his identity from this article, another mini-portrait of French society, from The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, Volume CLXXII, January-June, 1915. (vol. 172 ); Boston: The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal Society, Inc., 1915, pp. 765-766.


(From Our Special Correspondent.)

PARIS, April 24, 1915.

Mr. Editor : It is a curious thing to observe the unsuspected strength of the callous side of human nature. In times like this, when all around us we hear of little else than misfortune or woe, we so quickly grow used to them that nothing short of an actual calamity any longer makes an impression. A large percentage of the women here are in mourning: everyone you speak to has lost relatives, one or several; out of six men mobilized in the house in which I live, three have been wounded, two very severely; my maid has had one cousin killed, and another is down with typhoid fever: and on the streets the sight of blind, maimed and disabled soldiers, all of course young and in the very prime of life, is incessant. After six months of this sort of thing it is really perhaps not surprising that we should have become unfeeling pachyderms.

There is, however, one sight that never fails to make a deep Impression on me, — the simple, military funeral-convoy of the soldiers who die in the ambulances here: it is, I imagine, this very simplicity that goes so far toward the extraordinary effect produced. Many of these gallant men have given up their lives for their country in utter silence, and die surrounded by entire strangers, their relatives in remote provincial villages often never even hearing what their fate has been. The importance which the French attach to the three great functions of life, births, marriages and deaths, is, of course, well-known: they were not the people, therefore, to allow these unfortunate victims of war to be whisked away surreptitiously and buried in some obscure cemetery without any of their beloved formalities. It was in consequence arranged by warm-hearted residents with the authorities that a regular funeral was to be accorded to each soldier dying in the Paris ambulances, even though he had not a friend, or a cent to his name. This thoughtfulness goes to show how difficult the French character is to understand, on account of its unexpected many-sidedness: for, in general terms, the Frenchman is not a kind person, at any rate as we comprehend the term. On the contrary, from our viewpoint he is rather cold and hard. Yet this burial trait is simply charming. Here is what you see on the streets pretty much every day: A simple but nice open hearse, bearing the coffin shrouded in the beautiful national colors, and with a few flowers: the little procession is preceded by the usual municipal representative in dress suit, cocked hat and scarf of office; on either side walks the picket of honor with rifles reversed; and the rear is brought up by the indispensable cortège of mourners, who in this case, however, have to be purely people of good-will, soldiers, police, nurses in uniform, sisters of charity, and finally a few curious-looking elderly men and women, none of whom seem to know each other, and who have a general air of wondering how they came to be there. I have been told that there is a sort of confraternity of men and women with big and tender hearts that make it their regular business to follow to the grave the remains of these noble sons of France. They have probably reasoned within themselves that it will be a certain source of consolation to many a mother’s heart throughout the land to feel that if her son is one of the many who breathe their last in the Paris military wards, he will at least be buried with ceremonious respect.

These funerals proceed at a measured pace. The invariable custom here is, even in times of peace, for the men on the sidewalks to touch or raise their hats as a cortège passes, and for the women to cross themselves. But now it is quite a different affair. As a the picket of ten surrounding the tricolor goes slowly along, the passers-by on either side step to the edge of the curb, stand at attention and bare their heads. Many of them are former soldiers, and display in their buttonholes the green and black ribbon of the campaign of 1870. And as they line up there, giving the last salute to their younger comrade of this war of liberation, you suddenly observe a fact that the custom of wearing hats in the street had hitherto kept from evidence: that most of the men in Paris now are either gray, white or bald! All of the younger set are under arms. In a word, it is one of the most impressive scenes I have witnessed for a long while, and I am not ashamed to own that my eyes are moist each time it is given to me to be a spectator at one of these “last posts.”

It is reported that at one of the recent ordinary civilian funerals an incorrigible Paris garroche was heard to murmur to himself: “Well there’s a chap who could not have been very inquisitive!” — The hidden meaning of the remark being, of course, that it would worry him, garroche, more than a little to have to die just at this juncture, and not to live to see the end of this campaign and to learn what the peace terms will be. Think of departing to Abraham’s bosom, for instance, with a wretched attack of the pneumonia, as was the case with poor Lord Roberts, and never knowing how the war ended, what compensatlon was granted to Belgium and what her future frontier is to be; without reading of the re-uniting after more than a century of the three fragments of the Kingdom of Poland; without a knowledge of whether the former wrong to Denmark was made good, or the two provinces wrested from her by the joint attack of Austria and Germany in 1864 returned to her; and, last but by no means least, without being here to see the little men in red trousers make their delirious reëntry up the Avenue du Bois and down the Champs Elysées.

Among all the deaths that have occurred of late, two strike me as beyond all measure sad. The first is that of Paul Deroulède, the enthusiastic, indefatigable patriot and apostle of the Revanche. What a cruel irony of Fate that this generous son of the generous race should have been able to keep up his belief in the future return to France of the two lost provinces through all those dark and hopeless years, during which there seemed to the general outsider to be about as much prospect of the realization of this idea as of the annexation of the planet Mars, — only to die six months before the outbreak of the hostilities that would have brought to him the dearest wish of his heart! And here again can be cited a noble and kindly deed to the credit of the French arms. When the first French chasseurs crossed the boundary of Alsace they at once threw down the German frontier-post, with its eagle and “Deutsches Reich,” despatched it off to Paris, and had it fastened to the wall as a trophy over Paul Deroulède’s grave in the modest little cemetery of La-Celle St. Cloud!

The other death is that of Lord Roberts. In a way it was a fine one, the death of a soldier among his brethren in arms, even if he did die of illness. But a cruel blow it must have been, all the same, to be carried off without seeing the end of such hostilities as these, the greatest in all history.



(September 9, 1914)

IT was a little after five in the afternoon of Wednesday, 9th September, when a general officer with the Ninth French Army rode with one companion up the road from Sezanne. He had clearly in his mind on a landscape map the memory of three disastrous days just past. He saw the line upon that map like a small, vivid picture; he saw it as it was also in reality — the rushing of his centre back and back, day after succeeding day, through the Sunday, the Monday, the Tuesday, and the early hours of this the Wednesday, in which the crisis had come: the crisis of the Marne.

To the north the ceaseless noise of the guns which had filled those four days still rolled, and as he heard it he considered the 42nd Division. It had just arrived behind the gap opening between the 11th and the 9th Corps. To his right, and also to the northward, but behind the line of the battle, a great storm-cloud was growing to cover the sky, and beneath it, where it darkened the last brilliance of that intensely hot day, the 294 sharp edge of the Champagne hills, the steep down near the marshes of St. Gond, and the strangely isolated height of the Mont Aimé stood out unnaturally clear, the latter with the western light of the declining sun full on it against the ominous livid purple of the thunder-cloud. At its base the Prussian guard had stretched out to the limit of their numbers; they were already too far extended; they were still advancing. Behind again to the right (he did not know in what confusion, but the confusion had come) bunched the Saxons.

That vast modern battle was not one in which, as in those of our fathers’ time, the decisive moment was grasped by the eye, and the decisive manœuvre conducted upon a field actually seen by the man deciding it. In that vast modern battle the critical moment was the end of calculation infinitely complex and stretching back for days; yet there was, in this moment of the late afternoon, on that Wednesday, essentially the same process maturing in a length of days which had with the great Napoleon matured in an hour; and what was about to be done was essentially the same as what Marlborough had done at Blenheim, when he drew that heavy phalanx of white-coated German cavalry from the right, 295 under the heights, and launched it at the French left centre and decided Blenheim; for the enemy line, though still advancing, was stretched to its utmost, was breaking: the gap in the German line had been perceived, and proved fatal to the Germans.

The general officer returned from his ride a little after six o’clock. He sat in the room of a private house, which during the last twenty-four hours had been the conning tower of the fight. He had the great map before him, scored with rough chalk. He saw through the tall windows before him the lowering sky. He received minute by minute the telephone messages, and marked their news in sharp pencil jabs upon the sheet. The dull noise to the north was the same; the reports pouring in from the front showed little change, but that little change was as significant as the slight movement after slack water in a harbour, when the tide begins to turn.

It was still full daylight; the storm had broken on those northern hills; there were lightning flashes against the dead cloud, and the noise of distant thunder mingled with the ceaseless thudding of the guns. The general ceased his labour and could lean back in his chair, resting his eyes from the map, and make certain that the thing 296 was accomplished. An order had been given upon the enemy’s side, and it was an order for retreat. . . .

The evening fell, the rain drove through darkness, the thunder lessened, grumbled and withdrew. None slept. All followed the more distant, the withdrawing signal of the artillery. The reserve troops came marching through, hurrying to the north. The tide had indeed turned.

The general officer was mounted again with his few companions and riding north with the rest through the storm. Before midnight a great glare was seen on the horizon, blurred with rain. He informed himself what it was, and heard it was the station of La Fére Champenoise burning: the enemy had abandoned it three hours before. And still they went northwards, and still the far noise of the guns retired before them, miles away.

*             *             *             *             *

There is a house in Luxembourg built for a large school and standing upon the public square opposite the post office. Here was housed, in that same September of 1914, the Central Command of the German armies. Hence proceeded 297 the central determining orders which moulded the battle reaching along one hundred and fifty miles of front, two hundred miles away.

The little hill-town on its splendid gorge was quiet enough. The German officers came and went through the streets, courteous, not ill-liked, among a people whom they had always regarded as one of their own; no cruelties had marked this violation of what they thought to be no more than a technical neutrality. The coinage, the customs, the railways had been German for a lifetime; German speech was all about them, and the traditions they knew. The afternoon was fair and warm in Luxembourg, high though the town stands. Here was all the odd, ironic air of peace, though here was the heart of the attack and of the enormous war.

Into that great empty building, now filled with its busy groups of writing and telephoning men, its big, bare deal tables with their masses of maps pinned down, its walls covered with further maps, lines in blue and red chalk drawn upon them and numbers hastily inscribed, came for the first time, after so many days of triumphant advance, the note of change. There was half an hour of too great calm, during which decision wrestled against decision and a proud refusal to 298 accept inevitable things; but the moment came; it was the reflex of that same moment, a little after five o’clock, when the thunderstorm had broken far away beyond the reedy belts of the Marne River. An order had been given at the front: the man upon whose responsibility it went — a man already broken with illness — rose and went out uncertainly, as though he were far older than his age, leaning upon the plain iron rail of the school staircase as he painfully descended the steps; then slowly, with bent head, wandered into the neglected court and garden.

Between him and the public square there was but a low wall supporting high, open rails far apart. He came in his full uniform, this general officer, who had accepted and ordered the retirement. He was a nobleman, superior in military talent to his fellows, even amid that great organization, which was the best designed for war in Europe. He leaned against the railings a moment with his left hand, his whole body was bowed, and then he sat him down, careless of dignity, careless of prestige. He sat down publicly on the low stone wall that supported the railings, his head bending more and more forward, and staring on the ground. He bore a name with 299 very different memories of cold triumph. It was Moltke.

A group of boys playing in the square ceased from play to gaze at the old boy, timidly approached the railings, and stared at that poor, broken figure. They could know nothing of the traditions of the Prussian army, nor of how strange a sight they saw, but they felt its enormity. He, for his part, had forgotten what was around him — the place, the children; he stared at the ground, remembering as in a vivid dream his urgent appeal to the emperor, his agony at defeat, his intelligence too great for his heart, and the knell still ringing there: “The campaign has failed. . . . The campaign has failed.”


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