from the book : 'Among the Ruins', 1915
'the French Soldier'
by Senor Gomez Carillo
Spanish Journalist

Seen Through Spanish Eyes

the heroism of French soldiers


March 10. 1915

Until lately, the French soldier had the reputation of being more admirable in attack than in defence. "If you can manage to win the first battle from them," said Frederick the Great, speaking of the troops of Louis XV, "you will win all the rest." And this idea had become so general in the world that the majority of military critics were convinced that the issue of the present war would depend upon the result of the great encounter at Charleroi. "If the Germans obtain a victory on the frontier," wrote M. Akkins in August, "nothing will stop them in their march upon Paris." They won this victory, and yet when after the retreat the Generalissimo cried "Halt!" on the banks of the Marne, his troops, far from seeming enfeebled or enervated, showed themselves more robust than ever. For the first time in history France had learnt to organize victory in the course of a disaster.

Recognizing the character of the modern campaign, the little French trooper, but yesterday known only for his ardour in attack, has now proved himself quite as capable as his foe of tenacity, patience, silence, and passive resignation. For months, indeed, he has been fighting with more calm than fury, gaining ground foot by foot, returning ten and twenty times over to the assault of the same trenches, standing immovable under shell-fire, giving, in short, an example of coolness that the whole world has admired, not without a certain surprise. "I must confess," writes the Japanese Banno, "that I did not believe the French capable of that methodical rage which is more characteristic of the northern races, but the drama of the struggle as it develops shows to what an extent an energetic and intelligent nation can adapt itself to all systems." And this same Banno, recalling the heroic deeds he witnessed in Flanders, declares that in his new martial avatar, the Frenchman has lost nothing of his chivalrous heroism. "In Manchuria," he writes, "we had a General, Matsunaga, who in extreme peril preferred to die and to sacrifice all his troops in a desperate enterprise rather than surrender. At Port Arthur, General Nakumura caused all his soldiers to be dressed in white— the colour of death and mourning among us— and led them to the assault of a fort, where every one of them perished. I thought such feats of arms as these would never be witnessed in countries so highly civilized as those of Europe. I was convinced of the contrary by the magnificent General M—, who, seeing all his brigade endangered, made an incredible charge at the head of his cavalry; by Admiral R—, who, at the defence of Dixmude, after all his officers had fallen by his side, continued to command the remnant of his sailors single-handed; by General G—, who, engaging forces four times as numerous as his own, lighted his pipe under a hail of shells, ordered the attack, and won the battle."

The worst, or the best of it, is that JofFre by no means approves of this prodigal heroism, as the poor Saint-Cyrians know by experience.

Have you heard the story of these young people? Appointed sub-lieutenants at the outbreak of the war, the Saint-Cyrians agreed that the first time they went into action they would wear their white gloves and their tricoloured plumes. In vain did their commanding officer point out that the latest regulations enjoined the concealment of all external marks that could distinguish the officer from his soldiers. With an idea of war proper rather to the days of Bayard than to our own times, these young paladins kept their mutual promise and fell, the victims of their word. Those who survived were not congratulated, but punished.

"No romanticism!" cries the Generalissimo, when such deeds are discussed.

But what could destroy in the soul of the race the ancient leaven of gay and clamorous heroism, full of charming puerilities and sublime generosities, which constitutes what was called in former days the furia francese? In the trenches, silent and vigilant, the trooper makes a sacrifice, and does so with a certain melancholy. To cheer him up, it is only necessary to promise him a change in the course of operations. A few weeks ago Joffre caused an order of the day to be read to the troops, couched in terms which gave hope of an immediate general offensive. And it was extraordinary to see the enthusiasm, the joy, the ardour with which the whole army greeted the promise of new tactics. Deceived by the fiery words of their great chief, they all thought the trenches were to be abandoned for ever, that they were to advance to the charge in the open country, gallop proudly, lance in rest, rush to the assault with fixed bayonets. In the camps, ingenuous songs were at once poured forth, celebrating as a resurrection the end of life underground, of the conflict between crouching beasts, of troglodyte stratagems. Light, air, space, gaiety, movement, long live France, hurrah for plumes, hurrah for the white gloves of Saint-Cyr!. It became necessary to explain to the men that the attack contemplated by the General did not imply, at any rate for the present, any change of method, but increased effort in the existing system.

Oh! that existing system. ‘Le Temps’ has just published a letter from a soldier, which sums up all the resigned antipathy which the French feel for mole-warfare. "The Germans have transformed the profession of arms into a mason's job; as soon as we take a position, before we think of rifles, we have to lay hold of shovels, pickaxes, and spades to dig new holes for ourselves. The life we lead in the trenches is not so miserable as it seems at first, and if it were not for the rain it would be almost bearable. We are not cold, thanks to the warm garments that are sent to us in such abundance on every side. Our rations are good and plentiful: meat, vegetables, sardines, chocolate; in short, we have nothing to complain of under this head. But if we are well enough from the material point of view, the unanimous cry is nevertheless: quick, quick, take us out of this to fight in the open country and charge with the bayonet, under the shelter of our wonderful gunnery. This war of the buried alive is repugnant to our temperament, and if we wage it, and wage it as well as our enemies, it is only because we are convinced that it is the only way for the moment. For indeed it requires more heroism to hide as one fires, to come out only to crawl on the ground, to attack on all fours, and to cut wire entanglements in the middle of the night, than to march joyously under shell-fire in broad daylight to the blare of the trumpets sounding the charge. The capture of a trench is a methodical and scientific operation; it must be done, and we do it. We advance by the yard, and the general impression is that we are always stationary. We do not move; that is our grievance in trench-life."

Here in the bivouac, among the straw huts of what are nicknamed the negro villages, not only do the soldiers move, but they excite each other, vibrating to the breath of the noblest hopes, the most heroic illusions. Like children they amuse themselves, laughing, singing, playing tricks on each other, describe extraordinary adventures, and in a word revive, after two thousand five hundred years, the gaiety of the Greek camp as Xenophon paints it for us, with its somewhat coarse joy which perpetual danger ennobles, with its profusion of improvised trophies, with its clandestine libations and its humble banquets, with its songs which speak continually of the barbarians, and of an Emperor who might be either Artaxerxes or William II.

"They are really amazing, these troops consisting of men of all ages, who seem to be about twenty years old," said one of my colleagues.

"It is the antithesis that is amazing," I observed.

And indeed it is extraordinary that this army, only seven months old, should already have had time, not only to have welded all the nation into a compact mass of admirable fighters, but further, to create veterans like Bonaparte's grumblers, who seemed to be always complaining of their lot, and who were always the first to go out and meet danger. The Paris newspapers have had a good deal to say about a certain Jigo, who won the military medal a few days ago. Jigo is a delightful creature. "Dirty," says his biographer, "hairy, and unshaven, his cap perched on his left ear, stinking of brandy and tobacco, he never ceases to deafen his comrades with the thunder of his braggadocio.

He is over forty years old, and he enlisted as a volunteer on the very day of the mobilization. When the commanding officer gives an order, Jigo mutters and frowns. But when the march begins, Jigo is always in the forefront. He is the unfailing volunteer: for dangerous patrols, for difficult missions, for unusual actions. The only thing he asks is to be allowed to go alone. What would be the use of a handful of comrades, when his adventures always consist in being alone against an army Alone, without haste, he goes through the woods or along the country paths and arrives where he has to go. When he is cold, he kills a hostile sentry to take his overcoat, and when he has reason to believe that there are some bottles of brandy in a German trench, he has no rest until he has induced his officers to attack it with bayonets. 'Bullets,' he says, 'might break the bottles,' and for Jigo there is nothing more sacred in the world than these. His captain adores him, and threatens every day to have him shot, for no one is less amenable to discipline than Jigo. He often disappears during a march. When he is sought he cannot be found; but suddenly he appears on the scene, somewhat bloodstained, always singing, and full of good news which very often saves his regiment."

This volunteer veteran, always grumbling and joking, is no unique specimen. In every company, in every section, there is more than one fellow of his stamp, as ready to turn a couplet and make the colonel laugh, as to sacrifice himself to please the lieutenant. It is they who construct the smartest huts of the camp; they who, no one knows how, find ducks and fowls to supplement the ration; they who, in tragic moments when lads are thinking of their mothers or their sweethearts, and turning pale under the hurtling shells, bring out the absurd, incongruous phrase that provokes peals of laughter; they who, when the general has to be asked to pardon a poor fellow, condemned for some peccadillo, passes over the hierarchy and goes off to the Staff, pipe in mouth.

In the camp we have been visiting to-day, our guide was a sergeant of this curious race of veterans who laugh and grumble at the same time, and who, with their familiar manners and their cordial speech, seem to suppress all social differences in favour of the humble. He called our attention gaily to the architectonic details of the straw huts.

"This is a palace in the Roman style, with columns and friezes," he said, as we paused before a hut supported by six tree-trunks.

Then he read the names of the various structures, painted with blacking on deal boards:

"The Tavern of Olympia ... Weekly Repose ... The Sucking Flea ... The Marble Monastery ... Algeria Villa ... Lutetia Villa ... Villa of the Sleeping Louse ... Chalet of Fraternity ... Moulin Rouge."

The veteran exclaimed with pride:

"We have everything, gentlemen: a canteen, dining-rooms, theatres, balls, and even newspaper offices. Yes, gentlemen, we have two newspapers, one serious and argumentative, written by Corporal Mayal, a parish priest in times of peace, and the other gay and satirical, to which every one may contribute once a month. I am sorry that to-day's edition is sold out. The padre's paper appears in six copies, and the other in twenty, which are distributed in the canteens. But the padre writes such a shocking bad hand that we can't read his articles."

The soldiers about us laughed gaily, applauding the sergeant's farrago.

A sudden clatter of saucepans made our guide exclaim:

"The performance is about to begin, gentlemen; the doors are open. Let us make haste."

Behind the encampment we found a shed made of branches, in which a clever mountebank had put up his boards and trestles. The marionettes that appeared were not so elegant as those of the Guignol in the Champs Elysées, but the piece they performed was full of interest to us. It turns on nothing less than the tragedy which brings the war to an end. The title was: "The Last Sigh of William II." The main action took place in Germany, in the palace at Potsdam. In the first act, Punch and Guignol agreed to save Europe from the present horrors. "These horrors," said Punch, "are not the things imagined by the chemist with the black-rimmed spectacles, still less those that make Mme Françoise tremble, but the cunning and coolness with which the Boches have shut themselves up in trenches like rabbits, to make the war go on for ever without any risk of getting a taste of our bayonets." Guignol declared for his part, that if it were a question of getting on horseback and dashing out, sword in hand, to fight in the open, he would not mind how long the war lasted. "But a war like this one," they agreed, "must be brought to an end." And arm in arm, the two chums set out for Germany. In the second act, they were at the frontier, and before advancing into the enemy's country, they thought it well to learn German. "You know," said Polichinelle, "you must say all the consonants together without a single vowel, making a dreadful noise with your mouth, like this: Krdjvrnkmrssdnggskk ... above all, you must not forget the k's; there must be plenty of k's. When the idiom is perfect, costume is unimportant."

Guignol kills two sentries he finds on guard at the gates of Aix-la-Chapelle, and takes their great-coats, their helmets and their rifles. "And now," he cries, "to Berlin." In the third and last act, the scene, as a mysterious voice informed us, was laid in the throne- room of the Palace of Potsdam. Two stiff and haughty soldiers were on guard on either side of the throne. "Guignol," murmurs one. "What is it?" answers the other. "Do you know exactly what to do?" "Yes, Punch, yes, don't be afraid. If he comes alone, he won't escape us." The two marionettes looked grave and lugubrious. They tried in vain to stand quietly, their whole bodies were quivering. "Attention!" cried Guignol, suddenly. "Attention!" repeated Punch. Hereupon a proud and sinister figure entered with moustaches turned up to his eyes. Punch and Guignol threw themselves upon him, and stripping off their helmets and overcoats, they appeared in the uniform of French soldiers. "In the name of the law," they cried, "we arrest you, Emperor William!" The Emperor was about to summon his guard, but Punch stopped his mouth; Guignol took a paper from his pocket, and presenting it to the man with the moustaches, cried: "This is your deed of abdication. Sign, or I will kill you. The German Republic is to be proclaimed to-night, and a European peace will follow immediately. If you won't sign, prepare to die." The Emperor heaved a sigh and signed. At the back of the miniature stage a voice sang the "Marseillaise," with imitations of drums and trumpets: "Ta-ra-ta-ta-ra-ra-ta-ra." Loud applause broke out on every side, accompanied by childish laughter and delicious comments.

"If I had been Guignol," said one, "I would not have been satisfied with making him sign. I would have run him through with my bayonet."

"But you couldn't have killed him, he was unarmed," objected another.

The sergeant who was guiding us through the maze of excited soldiers said in a tone at once bombastic and good-natured:

"Have you heard of the Company of the Daredevils? It consists of Southerners—well— when I say 'consists,' that's not quite right, for at present there are only a few survivors out of the two hundred fellows who formed it. I am one of them. I must have some very big sins to expiate in this world, for the bullets and shells make off as soon as they see me. The night when the poor company went into action for the last time, I thought, nevertheless, that I should be left to spend the night on the field. The captain had noticed that not eighty paces from our trenches the Germans had put up a terrible wire entanglement which secured them against attack, and enabled them to shoot us down like rabbits directly we put our noses out of our holes. 'The devil!' said a lieutenant, 'what they have done in one night, we will undo in another.'

"It was at once agreed that the whole company, armed with nippers, should undertake the glorious task of cutting the wires that very night. At eleven o'clock exactly, when all seemed quiet, the two hundred of us crawled like lizards to the parapets which were about twenty paces from the enemy. 'You must neither speak nor cough nor even breathe audibly,' the captain had told us. After an hour of crawling we arrived. We were all in high feather, thinking that we had not been seen. But we had scarcely begun on the wire when an enormous searchlight illuminated us up as brilliantly as a flood of sunshine ... and crack, crack, the machine-guns began to welcome us. 'It is useless to retire,' cried the captain, 'let us cut the wires and die to some purpose.' I must tell you that most of us had no rifles, nothing but our nippers. 'We'll cut them,' they all cried, and the work began under a hail of bullets. My poor chums fell in bunches. A lieutenant from Marseilles began to sing a Provençal air to hearten us: 'Aquelos mountagnos que tan aoutossoun.' We all took it up. It was a concert. 'Aquelos mountagnos.' Alas! a good many never finished the couplet. I never saw so many fall. The Boches called out ' Surrender!' Those who had rifles replied by firing. The Daredevils surrender! The captain called out: 'Surrender if you like, but I shall finish myself off first.' There was no need. A German bullet did the business for him. 'Get on,' cried the Marseilles lieutenant, a giant whose voice could be heard twenty kilometres off, 'get on with the work, cut.' And he continued his song, 'Aquelos mountagnos ... que tan aoutos soun.' But the chorus grew fainter every minute. When all the wires were cut we were ordered to get back to our trenches, crawling and in silence. The enemy's guns followed us, guided by the cursed flash-light, and many of our poor fellows were left behind on the way. Do you know how many of us got back out of the two hundred who started? Forty;yes, sir, forty out of two hundred."

The sergeant lighted his pipe, pulled at it slowly, and then puffing out the smoke disdainfully, cried:

"But those forty are equal to a thousand."

Then, fixing his eyes on one of us who has a very youthful appearance, Sims, the American correspondent of the New York Press Association, he asked:

"Do you know what is the most dangerous thing in war?"

"No," answered the American.

"Youth, sir. I don't know why, but bullets are like women, they seem to prefer the young ones. Look at me, I am a grizzled old fellow. I am forty. And forty years in Africa count double. But no bullet so much as grazes me. The other thirty-nine survivors of our company are old stagers, too, most of them over thirty. The twenty-year olds are all gone—snatched from us, sir."

And turning to the soldiers around, among whom there were men of all ages, some mature, some very young, he asked:

It was so, wasn't it, poilus?"


From Joffre himself to the latest recruit there is not one who is not a poilu. It is good to hear the pride with which they cry, "We are poilus!" and the enthusiasm with which, speaking of the famous general, they murmur, "There's a poilu for you!" The term poilu sums up all the soldier's virtues, his heroism, his self-sacrifice, his good humour and his sufferings. Describing the passage of a battalion returning from the firing-line, ragged, dirty, and unshaven, singing a coarse, expressive, marching song, Dumont-Wilden wrote, "All classes are represented among these men. There are peasants with horny hands and sunburnt faces;there are men who six months ago wore dress-coats and were assiduous 'first-nighters ';there are intellectuals, dainty and conceited. Now one and all are confounded in a single mass, the glorious mass of the Poilus of France."

The Poilus!To tell the truth, I don't know the origin of the nickname, or its precise meaning. But I repeat it with pleasure, because to me it has a rough, joyous flavour, a suggestion of epic grandeur and raillery, which recalls the nicknames of Napoleon's volunteers.

Yes, there is no doubt of it, all the magnificent past of the country, its gaiety and its courage, its noble chivalry and its noisy good-nature, have been revived in the camps of Lorraine, where the soldiers spend their lives singing to the roar of the guns. And even if one has no great faith in anecdotes of the past or of the present, it is impossible not to admire such a combination of simplicity and greatness, of modesty and swagger, and, above all, the kindliness, the clarity, and the sublimity of this race which is able to fight without hatred and to die without melancholy.

One of the things that cause most surprise to my colleagues, accustomed to attach great importance to newspaper articles and political speeches, is the entire absence in the battle-field of the Parisian rancour against Germany, or, rather the Germans. With the exception of the Emperor and the Crown Prince, whom every one holds responsible for the war and its atrocities, the French piou-piou detests no one in the enemy's ranks. Of course, when there is talk of the burning of villages, he cries, "You'll see what we will do when we get into their Germany." But this is merely momentary. They are easily melted by a case of suffering, or fired by a gallant deed on the part of the enemy. And among all the soldiers to whom we spoke of the Germans as combatants, there was not one who did not testify: They are admirable!

Listening to the piou-pious, I thought of the noble lines, harmonious as verse, in which Maurice Barrés celebrated the heroism of those who fell on the banks of the Yser, in the vain attempt to break through to Calais. "Oh! cried the poet, "how those splendid troops, intoxicated with warlike songs and national ambitions, advance in close formation, shoulder to shoulder, their souls on fire. Shells, machine-guns and projectiles tear breaches in their ranks, and mow them down like standing corn. What matter! They form anew, return to the attack, and are again laid low. And then others and others again take the place of the fallen, always ready for sacrifice."

Less poetically, but no less warmly, officers and soldiers in camp tell us the same story. One of the youngest artillery lieutenants, a lad with blue eyes and a girlish mouth, murmured, after describing an engagement in which a regiment of the Prussian Guard tried to seize a position defended by two 75 mm. guns:

"It was pitiable to see them falling in masses, grave and solemn as if they had been performing a rite. I prayed for them from the bottom of my heart! What troops!"

One of us, who had heard of the ease with which the Germans allow themselves to be taken prisoners in the neighbourhood of Verdun, asked the French officers:

"How do you explain their heroism in the mass, and the poor resistance they offer when they are surprised?"

"The reason of this apparent contradiction," said a captain, "is to be found in their conception and application of discipline. It seems a paradox, but in a sense discipline is the greatest defect of the German army. In his exaggerated obedience, the soldier, especially the Prussian soldier, loses all sense of individuality. In a scrap between patrols, for instance, if the French officer falls, he is replaced at once by one of his men, and the fight goes on. On the other hand, when the German officer falls, his men, who have been fighting like lions heretofore, are suddenly disconcerted, and don't know what to do or to think. Each German is an admirable wheel in a perfect machine; but if the main wheel goes wrong, the whole machine stops. The French have their own personality, their ideas, their vanities, everything, in fact, which constitutes a complete being. This has its drawbacks, of course. With soldiers like ours, an unpopular war would be impossible. From the humblest piou-piou to the most learned staff captain they are all busy judging and criticizing. It is different in Germany; the troops, though they may not have the slightest idea of the causes of a war, march on in parade step, and never stop as long as they have officers to command them. To sum it all up, the German is the soldier of science, and the Frenchman is the soldier of inspiration. Which is the better man? No one will ever know! Of late years, until the outbreak of the war, the whole world was Germanophil in military matters. Before 1870 it was Francophil. After the present war, God alone knows. The victor will always have more prestige than the vanquished."

This is very certain. To-morrow, when of what is now happening, all that remains will be the synthetic notion of victor and vanquished, the sublimest efforts and the most heroic deeds of those who have not triumphed will be forgotten. But what history will never fail to record, whatever happens, is the ardour, the enthusiasm, and the joy with which the whole French people, without distinction of parties, hastened to the battle-field, making the most compact and the most animated human mass of a nation lately divided by conflicting ideals and hostile prejudices.

The Japanese journalist I have already quoted says, writing of this magnificent military democracy, so different from the German aristocracy: "The other day, near Chalons, in a bivouac, I met a Professor of the Sorbonne, very well known in fashionable French drawing-rooms, who is now a private soldier. He has not lost his refinement of manner, but when I saw him he was humming a song the coarseness of which would have delighted a Parisian cabman. A few months of campaigning had sufficed to evoke in him those soldier-instincts which are latent in the heart of every Frenchman, be he never so gentle and pacific. I have also seen diplomatists, bankers, actors, and priests, all inspired by the same exclusively military spirit, and so changed from their former selves that no one would recognize them at first sight. This union, this fraternal and familiar uniformity exists not only among equals, but also between superiors and inferiors. This is one of the things that strike a stranger most. Subordinates recognize the authority of their officers readily, because to them obedience represents not a social hierarchy, but merely a hierarchy of study and competence.

Thanks to this idea of rank, authority is combined with comradeship, without any infringement of discipline. In Germany it is not and cannot be the same thing. The German officer belongs to a superior caste, which would never consent to fraternize with the private soldiers under any circumstances whatever. In France, a captain does not mind sleeping on straw in the middle of his men, and very often he drinks out of the same bottle with them. A Prussian lieutenant would think himself dishonoured if he had even to travel in the same compartment with his subordinates. This, no doubt, accounts, to some extent, for the sombre gravity of the German army, and the frank and noisy good humour of the French army."

We all agreed with the Japanese journalist as soon as we came in contact with Joffre's soldiers.

They are more than an army, they are a formidable family in arms to defend the common hearth. The Generalissimo inspires veneration, but no fear, and the piou-pious gaily call him "Grandpapa." The commander is only the superior by virtue of his functions. Discipline, terrible discipline, the breaker of wills elsewhere, a thing of iron to the Germans, is a thing of velvet here. If the fighting is impeccable and the work well done, all the rest is of small importance. If the soldiers sing like birds, amuse themselves boisterously, and play tricks on each other like children, so much the better. The better their spirits, the more bravely they will die; the more lively they are, the greater the gallantry they will show in the field.

A short time ago, the ‘Figaro’ published a letter from a sergeant of artillery which must have filled the serious, respectful, and submissive soul of the Prussian soldiery with indignation. "As there is nothing more boring than to be kept standing beside a silent telephone," says the sergeant, "the sappers have invented an amusement in which I also indulge, when I am on guard in the outposts. When night comes and there are no more communications to be made to the batteries, the telephone lines of the advance posts have a rest—in theory. I say in theory, because then we fellows begin to talk to the other observers, and to the stations in the camp, and we sing all the songs of our respective repertories to each other. The telephones are transformed into 'theatrophones.' The platoon rolls out admirable Tyrolean songs in the general's cabinet;in the brigade there is a clown in the style of Footitt; a storyteller in the aeroplane park makes us laugh with his piquant anecdotes; at the colonel's telephone there is a fireman who crows like a cock, barks, brays, and neighs irreproachably. And thus we pass away the unoccupied hours during which nearly all the guns are silent. Now and again a voice is interrupted by a shell, and that voice we shall never hear again. But those who are left do not stop their singing and laughing on that account. Death, in fact, no longer frightens or saddens anyone."

What would the exclusive admirers of Prussian discipline have said, only six months ago, to these ingenuous confessions? They would probably have descanted on the decadence of the race and on the relaxation of discipline.

Now, every one knows that this and many other things of the same kind are only endearing manifestations of French gaiety, the daughter of Athenian gaiety.

Those who only know Paris with its perpetual fever and its permanent nervous irritation have no idea of the real French gaiety, ingenuous, noisy, spritely, gallant, fresh, loquacious, healthy, and robust. "Gallic laughter," say foreigners. I would rather evoke Athenian laughter, subtle and full of those delicate shades that surprise in the people, and still more in the people armed and at war. "These men," wrote the old Aristophanes rather peevishly, speaking of the soldiers of his day, "have a tendency to look upon life as a pleasure-party." The same might be said of Joffre's soldiers. The Germans accuse them of being frivolous, superficial, and disrespectful. From their point of view the Germans are right. Each people has the inevitable defects of its qualities. Without this superficial levity how could the France of to-day and of history bear the evils that Fate has made her suffer? She has been able to pass through the most tragic phases of her history laughing and singing. Laughing and singing, she has escaped the prostration into which grave people like the Spaniards and the Turks subside when they are cast down. What would have become of the poor France of 1870 without her laugh?

But those who do not see the almost religious depth and gravity beneath this levity, do not know the soul of the country. To march to death singing and jesting is to sanctify frivolity. Where on earth do we find heroes like those of this race, save in the epic story of the Greeks? Other nations have fought—moved by self-interest, love of independence, a holy pride. France alone has fought for the mere love of fighting, for pure delight in danger, for the noble joy of self-sacrifice. Seek the reason of the most brilliant battles of ancient France, and you will not always be able to find it. But, on the other hand, you will find, even in the hour of disaster, the same chivalrous elegance and the same heroic joy. Examine a collection of portraits of European heroes, English, German, Spanish, and French. All will inspire equal respect. In all you will find the same appearance of strength and energy. "They are of one family," you will think. But when you examine their features more closely, you will soon see that the only smiling faces are those of the French. And this, which seems nothing to those who study war from the technical point of view, is what throughout the ages has given French History its airy and discreet brilliance, only comparable to that of the Athenian legend.


sketches of French soldiers


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