The Forerunners (Romain Rolland)/V

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



A WOMAN with compassion and who dares to avow it; a woman who dares to avow her horror of war, her pity for the victims, for all the victims; a woman who refuses to add her voice to the chorus of murderous passions; a woman genuinely French who does not endeavour to ape the heroines of Corneille. What a solace!

I wish to avoid saying anything which could hurt wounded souls. I know how much grief, how much suppressed tenderness, are hidden, in thousands of women, beneath the armour of a dogged enthusiasm. They stiffen their sinews for fear of falling. They walk, they talk, they laugh, with an open wound in the side through which the heart's blood is gushing. No prophetic faculty is needed to foresee that the time is at hand when they will throw off this inhuman constraint, and when the world, surfeited with bloody heroism, will not hesitate to proclaim its disgust and its execration.

From childhood onwards our minds are distorted by a state education which instills into us a rhetorical ideal, a compost of fragments torn from the vast field of classical thought, revivified by the genius of Corneille and the glories of the revolution. It is an ideal which exultantly sacrifices the individual to the state, which sacrifices common sense to crazy ideas. For the minds of those who have undergone this discipline, life becomes a pretentious and cruel syllogism, whose premises are obscure but whose conclusion is remorseless. Every one of us, in his time, has been subjected to its sway. No one has better reason to know than myself how terrible a struggle is required to free the spirit from this second nature which tends to stifle the first. The history of these struggles is the history of our contradictions. God be thanked, this war—nay, it is more than a war, this convulsion of mankind—will clear away our doubts, put an end to our hesitations, compel us to choose.

Marcelle Capy has chosen. The strength of her book is to be found in this, that through her Woman's Voice from out the Tumult there breathes the common sense of the French people, which has shaken off the sophisms of ideology and rhetoric. This free vision, living, thrilling, never deceived, is sensitive to every hint of suffering or ridicule. For in the sightless epic which racks the nations of Europe, every type of experience abounds: great exploits and great crimes, sublime acts of devotion and sordid interests, heroes and grotesques. If to laugh be permissible, if it be French to laugh amid the worst trials, how much more justifiable is laughter when it becomes a weapon against hypocrisy, a weapon employed for the vindication of stifled common sense! Never was hypocrisy more widespread and more disastrous than in these days, when in every land it is a mask assumed by force. Hypocrisy, it has been said, is the homage vice pays to virtue. Well and good; but the homage is excessive. Charming comedy, in which instincts, interests, and private revenges take shelter beneath the sacred cloak of patriotism. These Tartufes of heroism, prepared to offer up a splendid holocaust—of others! These poor Orgons, duped and sacrificed, eager to destroy those who would defend them and who seek to enlighten them! What a spectacle for a Molière or a Ben Jonson. Marcelle Capy's book presents us with a fecund collection of these perennial types which teem in our epoch, much as poisonous toadstools of unclassified species teem on rotting wood. Yet the old stumps on which they batten throw out green shoots. We perceive that the heart of the French forest is still sound; that the poison has not eaten into our vitals.[2]

Take courage, good friends, all who love France. Rest assured that the best way of doing honour to France is to maintain her reputation for good sense, geniality, and humour. Let the voice of Marcelle Capy's book, tender and valiant, be an example and a guide. Use your eyes, let your heart speak. Be not fooled by big words. Peoples of Europe, throw off this herd mentality, the mentality of sheep who would ask the shepherds and the sheep-dogs to tell them where to feed. Take heart! Not all the furies in the universe shall prevent the world from hearing the cry of faith and hope uttered by a single free spirit, from hearing the song of the Gallic lark winging its way heavenward!

March 21, 1916.

  1. Introduction to Marcelle Capy's book Une voix de femme dans la mêlée, Ollendorff, Paris, 1916. The italicised passages were suppressed by the censor in the original publication.
  2. On page 26 of Marcelle Capy's book we learn how touching a response these utterances of stalwart sympathy have called forth from the generous hearts of our soldiers.