The Diary of a French Private_ War-Imprisonment, 1914-1915
THE DIARY OF AFRENCH PRIVATE
SOME REVIEWS OF THE FRENCH EDITION
Emile Faguet in Les Annales Politiques et Littéraires, March 5,1916:—
I had the honour … three years ago to write the Preface toM. Gaston Riou’s first book, Aux écoutes de la France qui vient. It wasfull of fire, impetus, and passion; it was a heart-beat. I was not alwaysof the same opinion as the author, but I never failed to share his sentiments.I felt in him at once a brother in patriotism and a brother in loveof truth and justice. I greeted him affectionately and contradicted himtenderly. You all know the success of the work. The public learnedand has remembered a new proper name. M. Gaston Riou now presentsus with a very different book, but one painfully entrancing, as its titleimplies, Journal d’un simple soldat, guerre—captivité, 1914-1915.…M. Riou now shows himself to be an extraordinarily delicate and livelypainter of real life, a charming painter of landscape, a vivacious narrator,a thoughtful, conscientious, and penetrating psychologist alike in respect ofindividuals and of nations. At once artist and thinker, the artist never doesinjustice to the thinker, while the thinker always gives the artist free play.
Chicago Daily News, May 1916:—
Out of the mass of books, good, bad, and indifferent, which have beenwritten about the great war, there is one, Journal d’un simple soldat,by Gaston Riou, which stands out as a work that will live and passdown to future generations as a masterpiece.
Rev. Father Ménage, O.P., in La Revue des Jeunes, Feb. 25, 1916:—
The author of these pages is a man of energy and self-command.But he is something more. What gives the work a distinctive characteris the profundity of its psychologic sense.
Daily Chronicle, March 24, 1916:—
It has grown out of the war, but it is more than a war book becauseit has thought, feeling, knowledge, and English readers of French willappreciate its great charm of style.
A. Billy in Paris Midi, Feb. 9, 1916:—
These pages are the diary of the man who, among all the Frenchprisoners, was perhaps best fitted to understand Germany from within.
La Tribuna, Feb. 20, 1916:—
Though not a novel, it is as engrossing as a novel.
Daniel Lesueur in La Renaissance, March 18, 1916:—
Every one should read this record of imprisonment, whose realism—simple,trivial, and at times almost repulsive—is irradiated with a beautywhich no work of romantic fiction can ever equal.
Marcel Rouff in Mercure de France, April 1, 1916:—
The book will gain by being read and re-read after the war, when thecoming of peace will have restored to us that independence of mind whichis necessary for the adequate appreciation of works of art.
Paul Bourget in Echo de Paris, April 28, 1916:—
I consider the Journal d’un simple soldat, one of the best examples ofthe literature of war impressions which has characterized the conflict nowin progress.… The book is as impassioned as a novel and as living ashistory.
THE DIARY OF A
Translated from the French
EDEN AND CEDAR PAUL
LONDON: GEORGE ALLEN & UNWIN LTD.
RUSKIN HOUSE 40 MUSEUM STREET, W.C.
First published in 1916
(All rights reserved)
Gaston Riou was born on January 7, 1883. He is a native ofthe Cévennes, the region from which are derived three of the mostdistinguished among modern French psychologists, Melchior deVogüé, Auguste Sabatier, and Paul Bourget. The Cévenole familyfrom which he springs played an active part in the wars ofreligion. On the mother’s side he is related to Jacques de Vaucanson,the leading French mechanical engineer of the eighteenthcentury, and also to Majal Désubas, the last Huguenot martyr,executed at Montpellier in 1747. Thus by family tradition he isliberal, nonconformist, and republican.
Propagandist by temperament, he devoted himself at an earlyage to the study of Christian origins. In 1905, at the Sorbonne,he wrote a thesis upon the De unitate of St. Cyprian. His firstpublished writings dealt with the modernist movement of Loisy,Murri, and Tyrrell, and they attracted considerable attention inItaly and in Germany. The ardour which inspired them was verydifferent from the rabies theologica. The young author, thoughCalvinist by conviction, adopted an attitude remote from partisanship,his view being, “Whatever is Christian, is ours.” He insistedupon the need for a new synthesis, embracing at once the ancientfaith and the actual conditions and the social life and thought ofour day. He contended that the non-Roman churches scatteredthroughout the world might well constitute the embryo of a newCatholicism. But above all, in this writer simultaneously republicanand Christian believer, was manifest the earnest desire toreconcile the France of ’89 with the Christian ideal and the longingto witness and to assist in the renovation of his country. Writingof him at this period, M. Emile Faguet, a noted French critic,declared: “His ardour, his fire, his impetus, the rush of his blood,are all instinct with the passion of patriotism.”
In the year 1913 this admixture of religious uneasiness andnationalist hope found expression in a volume entitled Auxécoutes de la France qui vient, which from the first attractedwidespread attention. Above all, this work embodies faith inFrance, and the leaders among the younger men of the countryrallied round him who had ventured to proclaim this faith. M.Jean Finot, editor of the Revue des Revues, bestowed uponGaston Riou the title of princeps juventutis. Since then, withthe coming of the war, all France has regarded the Ecoutesas a work of prophecy. We read in it the phrase: “Silentlyand studiously an élite is in process of formation. The membersof this élite are united, as it were, in heroic friendship, forthey are all animated by a single passion, the desire to renovatetheir country, and they are all inspired by the same faith, simpleand strong. When others despaired, they did not despair. Theyare confident that a splendid morrow, worthy of the finest epochs ofour history, is now germinating in the furrows of our motherland.”
Nor was it in France alone that Aux écoutes de la France quivient attracted attention. In Germany, Karl Lamprecht, the greatpangermanist historian, devoted two lectures to it at the royalcourt of Dresden. In Zukunft Maximilian Harden exclaimed:“The publication of such a work suffices to prove that je-m’enfichisme[the Gallio spirit] is dead in France, and that youngFrance is turning away from the scepticism of the masters ofFrench literature.”
Riou collaborated with Bergson, Henri Poincaré, and CharlesGide in the publication of a historical study, Le matérialismeactuel, an attempt to summarize the tendencies of contemporarythought. Of this volume a critic declared: “For France it celebratesthe close of the age of negativism, and heralds the openingof an epoch of lyrical effort, of affirmation, and of activity.”
When war broke out, Gaston Riou had just returned from ajourney in England, Scotland, and Wales. He went to the frontamong the first, took part in the fighting in Lorraine, and wasmentioned in dispatches. He was wounded in the battle of Dieuze,was taken prisoner, and passed eleven months in a Bavarianfortress. This was not his first visit to Germany. A yearearlier he had been sent there on an official mission, and he ispersonally acquainted with many Germans of note.
The fruit of his imprisonment is Journal d’un simple soldat,which we are now publishing as The Diary of a French Private.In its native land the success of the book has been extraordinary,and the sternest of French critics have with one voice declared itto be a permanent addition to literature. Paul Bourget, EmileFaguet, Camille Mauclair, and Maurice Donnay all speak of it asa masterpiece.
TO GUGLIELMO FERRERO
WE. Had we laid their hearts bare, we shouldhave found there, not so much war, asjustice and humanity.
THEY. I begin by seizing what I want; thereare plenty of pedants in my realm whocan prove my right to it.
|REMINISCENCES OF A PREVIOUS JOURNEY||11|
|FEVER AND LOW SPIRITS||59|
|AN OLD CAMPAIGNER||73|
|I HAVE A TABLE||79|
|WE KILL THEIR HOPES||85|
|THE VICTORY OF THE MARNE||103|
|THE FIRST LETTER||123|
|STILL SHORT COMMONS||130|
|I HAVE A PALLIASSE||145|
|THE REVOLT OF THE HUNGRY||151|
|A CHANCE CATERER||175|
|THE SLOPES ARE FORBIDDEN||214|
|A BLACK MOOD||220|
|A FRANCONIAN QUARTERMASTER||226|
|HE GOES AWAY||255|
|THE COMMON PEOPLE OF GERMANY AND THE WAR||291|
THE DIARY OF A FRENCH PRIVATE
REMINISCENCES OF A PREVIOUSJOURNEY
September 2, 1914.
Here I am a prisoner.
What a journey! I am bitter at soul; it makes mesick to think of it. Across Rhenish Prussia, the Palatinate,the grand duchy of Baden, Würtemberg, andBavaria, for three days and three nights, at everystation, and even as we pass through the countryside,groups of peasants and gloomy crowds of citizenshurl execrations at us, stamp, and shake theirfists, making signs that they would like to cut ourthroats and tear out our eyes. From the streets ofcountry towns, lost amid the sweltering plains, troopsof children assemble, waving flags. They form upin line beside the track. When the train comes in,moving slowly like a funeral convoy, they beg forour képis; they vociferate in their own language,“Paris kaput! Death to the French!” The sight ofthe red cross armlet produces paroxysms of fury.“Death,” they scream, “death to the red cross men!These are they who finish off our wounded!” Theshouting becomes strident, terrible, mad. Sometimesthey try to take the train by storm, and are stoppedonly by the bayonets of the German soldiers on guardin each compartment, who growl out threats.
The women are even more horrible than the men.The murderous glance,