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Clerambault The Story of an Independent Spirit During the War   By: (1866-1944)

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This book is not a novel, but rather the confession of a free spirit telling of its mistakes, its sufferings and its struggles from the midst of the tempest; and it is in no sense an autobiography either. Some day I may wish to write of myself, and I will then speak without any disguise or feigned name. Though it is true that I have lent some ideas to my hero, his individuality, his character and the circumstances of his life are all his own; and I have tried to give a picture of the inward labyrinth where a weak spirit wanders, feeling its way, uncertain, sensitive and impressionable, but sincere and ardent in the cause of truth.

Some chapters of the book have a family likeness to the meditations of our old French moralists and the stoical essays of the end of the XVIth century. At a time resembling our own but even exceeding it in tragic horror, amid the convulsions of the League, the Chief Magistrate Guillaume Du Vair wrote his noble Dialogues, "De la Constance et Consolation ès Calamités Publiques," with a steadfast mind. While the siege of Paris was at its worst he talked in his garden with his friends, Linus the great traveller, Musée, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, and the writer Orphée. Poor wretches lay dead of starvation in the streets, women cried out that pike men were eating children near the Temple; but with their eyes filled with these horrible pictures these wise men sought to raise their unhappy thoughts to the heights where one can reach the mind of the ages and reckon up that which has survived the test. As I re read these Dialogues during the war I more than once felt myself close to that true Frenchman who wrote: Man is born to see and know everything, and it is an injustice to limit him to one place on the earth. To the wise man the whole world is his country. God lends us the world to enjoy in common on one condition only, that we act uprightly.



May, 1920


[Footnote 1: This Introduction was published in the Swiss newspapers in December, 1917, with an episode of the novel and a note explaining the original title, L'Un contre Tous . "This somewhat ironical name was suggested with a difference by La Boëtie's Le Contr' Un ; but it must not be supposed that the author entertained the extravagant idea of setting one man in opposition to all others; he only wishes to summon the personal conscience to the most urgent conflict of our time, the struggle against the herd spirit."]

This book is not written about the war, though the shadow of the war lies over it. My theme is that the individual soul has been swallowed up and submerged in the soul of the multitude; and in my opinion such an event is of far greater importance to the future of the race than the passing supremacy of one nation.

I have left questions of policy in the background intentionally, as I think they should be reserved for special study. No matter what causes may be assigned as the origins of the war, no matter what theses support them, nothing in the world can excuse the abdication of individual judgment before general opinion.

The universal development of democracies, vitiated by a fossilized survival, the outrageous "reason of State," has led the mind of Europe to hold as an article of faith that there can be no higher ideal than to serve the community. This community is then defined as the State.

I venture to say that he who makes himself the servant of a blind or blinded nation, and most of the states are in this condition at the present day, does not truly serve it but lowers both it and himself; for in general a few men, incapable of understanding the complexities of the people, force thoughts and acts upon them in harmony with their own passions and interests by means of the falsehoods of the press and the implacable machinery of a centralised government... Continue reading book >>

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