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Letters of a Soldier 1914-1915   By:

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LETTERS OF A SOLDIER

You do not know the things that are taught by him who falls. I do know.

( Letter of October 15, 1914. )

LETTERS OF A SOLDIER

1914 1915

WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY A. CLUTTON BROCK

AND A PREFACE BY ANDRÉ CHEVRILLON

AUTHORISED TRANSLATION BY V.M.

LONDON CONSTABLE AND COMPANY LTD 1917

Printed in Great Britain

CONTENTS

PAGE INTRODUCTION vii

PREFACE BY ANDRÉ CHEVRILLON 3

LETTERS 33

INTRODUCTION

I have been asked to write an Introduction to these letters; and I do so, in spite of the fact that M. Chevrillon has already written one, because they are stranger to me, an Englishman, than they could be to him a Frenchman; and it seems worth while to warn other English readers of this strangeness. But I would warn them of it only by way of a recommendation. We all hope that after the war there will be a growing intimacy between France and England, that the two countries will be closer to each other than any two countries have ever been before. But if this is to happen we must not be content with admiring each other. Mere admiration will die away; indeed, some part of our present admiration of the French has come from our failure to understand them. There is a surprise in it which they cannot think flattering, and which ought never to have been. Perhaps they also have been surprised by us; for it is certain that we have not known each other, and have been content with those loose general opinions about each other which are the common result of ignorance and indifference.

What we need then is understanding; and these letters will help us to it. They are, as we should have said before the war, very French, that is to say, very unlike what an Englishman would write to his mother, or indeed to any one. Many Englishmen, if they could have read them before the war, would have thought them almost unmanly; yet the writer distinguished himself even in the French army. But perhaps unmanly is too strong a word to be put in the mouth even of an imaginary and stupid Englishman. No one, however stupid, could possibly have supposed that the writer was a coward; but it might have been thought that he was utterly unfitted for war. So the Germans thought that the whole French nation, and indeed every nation but themselves, was unfitted for war, because they alone willed it, and rejoiced in the thought of it. And certainly the French had a greater abhorrence of war even than ourselves; how great one can see in these letters. The writer of them never for a moment tries or pretends to take any pleasure in war. His chief aim in writing is to forget it, to speak of the consolations which he can still draw from the memories of his past peaceful life, and from the peace of the sky and the earth, where it is still unravaged. He is, or was, a painter (one cannot say which, for he is missing), and the moment he has time to write, he thinks of his art again. It would hardly be possible for any Englishman to ignore the war so resolutely, to refuse any kind of consent to it; or, if an Englishman were capable of such refusal, he would probably be a conscientious objector. We must romanticise things to some extent if we are to endure them; we must at least make jokes about them; and that is where the French fail to understand us, like the Germans. If a thing is bad to a Frenchman, it is altogether bad; and he will have no dealings with it. He may have to endure it; but he endures gravely and tensely with a sad Latin dignity, and so it is that this Frenchman endures the war from first to last. For that reason the Germans, after their failure on the Marne, counted on the nervous exhaustion of the French. It was a favourite phrase with them one of those formulæ founded on knowledge without understanding which so often mislead them. Their formula for us was that we cared for nothing but football and marmalade. But reading these letters one can understand how they were deceived... Continue reading book >>




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