"This betrayal is inspired, instigated, abetted by a foreigner. It is committed by an Italian statesman, a member of the Italian Parliament in collusion with this foreigner to debase, to enslave, to dishonor Italy.".... Traditore! I never thought to hear the word off the operatic stage. From D'Annunzio's lips it fell like a wave of fire upon that inflammable audience. A grizzled, well-dressed citizen suddenly leaped to his feet, yelling,—"I will drink his blood, the traitor.... Death to Giolitti!"....
While the big theater rocked and stormed with passion, outside on the Via Viminale barricades were being hastily thrown up. The cavalry, that had been sitting their mounts all day before Santa Maria Maggiore guarding the unwelcome Giolitti from the angry mob, had charged the packed street, sweeping it clear with the ugly sound of horses' hoofs on pavement and cries of hunted men and women. That was the end. The next morning, be it remembered, the politician sneaked away, and two days afterwards the Salandra Government returned to power. Rome, all Italy, became suddenly calm, purged of its passion, awaiting confidently the reopening of Parliament.
The Government had won. The people had won. The poet had beaten the politician. For his was the voice to which the great mass of his countrymen responded.
* * * * *
D'Annunzio spoke again admirably at those great gatherings of concord when the citizens of Rome assembled in the Piazza del Popolo and in the Campidolgio. The poet had made himself the spokesman of the new Italy which had found itself in the storm of the past agonizing weeks, and as such he was recognized by the Government. The King and the ministers accorded him audiences; he was given a commission in the army and attached to the general staff. Wherever he appeared he was received with acclamations, with all the honor that is accorded the one who can interpret nobly the soul of a nation. And the poet deserved all the recognition which he received—the throngs, the flowers, the vivas, the adoration of Italian youths. For he alone, one might say, raised the crisis from the wallow of sordid bargaining, from the tawdriness of sentiment, to a purer passion of Latin ambition and patriotism. He loftily recalled to his countrymen the finer ideals of their past. He made them feel themselves Latin, guardians of civilization, not traders for safety and profit.
* * * * *
Germans, naturally, have had bitter things to say about D'Annunzio. German sympathizers in America as well as the German Chancellor have sneered at the influence wielded in Italy's crisis by a "decadent" poet. Even among American lovers of Italy there has been skepticism of the sincerity of a national mind so easily swayed by a man who "is not nice to women." A peculiarly American view that hardly needs comment!
Is it not wiser to assume that the case of D'Annunzio was really the case of Italy itself—conversion? The deepest passion in the poet's life came to him when, a voluntary exile in France, he witnessed the splendid reawakening of French spirit in face of awful danger. Living in Paris during the early months of the cataclysm, witness of the mobilization, the rape of Belgium, and the turn at the Marne, the heroic struggle for national existence in the winter trenches, he saw with a poet's vision what France was at death-grips with, what the Allies were fighting for, was not territorial gains or glory or even altogether selfish self-preservation, but rather, more deeply, for the existence of a certain humanity. This world war he realized is no local quarrel: it is the greatest of world decisions in the making. And the man himself was transfigured by it: he found himself in his greatest passion as Italy found herself at her greatest crisis. Latin that he is, he divined the inner meaning of the confused issues presented to the puzzled world. He was fired with the desire to light from his inspiration his own hesitant, confused people, to voice for them the call to the Latin soul that he had heard. For Italy, most Latin of all the heirs of Rome, with her tragic and heroic past, the war must be not a winning of a little Austrian territory, the redeeming of a few lost Italians, but a fight for the world's best tradition against the forces of death. Once more it was "Fuori i barbari," as it had been with her Latin ancestors.
It seems to me no great mystery.
In the poet's writing there are passages of a large historical understanding. Of all modern writers he is foremost Latin, in knowledge, in instinct for beauty and form, in love of tradition. Even in his erotic and mystical passages this vein of purest gold may be seen, this understanding of the potential greatness of the tradition into which he was born. What wonder, then, that the first fundamental passion of the mature man's soul should be his desire to proclaim once more the cause of Latin civilization, should be the ardor of fighting in his own manner with his weapon of inspired words the world battle? So it seemed to me as I listened to his voice in the stillness of that May night. The voice of Roman glory, of ancient ideals awoke an answering passion in the hearts of the thousands who had gathered there. "Una grande e pura Italia ... sensa onta." And it would be a lasting shame for Italy to keep out of the struggle that the allied nations were making, to take her "compensations" prudently and shrink back within a cowardly neutrality. Better any other fate.
So it seemed to that throng of eager, soul-hungry Italians who stood beneath the balcony of the hotel on the Pincian and drank the poet's fiery message like a full-bodied wine. At last they had found themselves.
The Piazza Speaks
"The voice of the piazza prevailed," the German Chancellor sneered in his denunciation of Italy at the conclusion. It can easily be imagined, the picture he made to himself, in his ugly northern office on Friedrichstrasse, of the influence that upset all German pressure and sent Italy into the war on the side of the Allies; that defeated the industry of the skilled ambassador, the will of the wily politician. The Chancellor saw one of those large public squares in which Latin countries abound, open centers in their close-built cities, where so much of the common life of the people goes on, now as it has for hundreds of years. For the piazza, descending in direct tradition from the ancient Forum, is the public hall of citizens, where they trade, gossip, quarrel, plot, love, and hate, from the crone sunning herself in a sheltered nook over her bag of chestnuts to the grandee whose palace windows open above the noisy commonalty. The Chancellor saw this common meeting-ground, this glorified street, filled with a ragged mob of "the baser quality," as on the operatic stage, emptily vocal or evilly skulking for mischief, like the mafia, the apache. He saw this loose gathering of irresponsibles suddenly stirred to evanescent passion against the real benefactors of their country by the secret agents of the Allies, "corrupted by English gold," in the mechanical melodrama of the German imagination, marching to and fro, attacking the shops and homes of worthy Germans, howling and stoning, by mere noise drowning the sober protests of reflecting citizens, intimidating a weak king, connived at by a bought government, pushing a whole nation into the bloody sacrifice of war out of mere recklessness of rioting—a piazza filled with the rabble minority who have nothing to lose because they neither fight nor pay.
* * * * *
Such a picture, reflected in Bethmann-Hollweg's splenetic phrase, is a complete delusion of the German mind. I was in Rome and saw the real piazza at work. I was on the streets all hours of day and night, and what I saw was nothing like the trite imaginings of the German Chancellor. As I have said in a previous chapter, the "demonstrations" did not begin in any perceptible form until the bungling hand of Prince von Buelow betrayed his intrigue with Giolitti and the politician's intention of defeating the Salandra Government in its preparations for war became evident. At no time did the rioting in the streets equal the violence of what a third-class strike in an American mill town can produce. Such as it was the Government showed the determination and ability to keep it strictly within bounds. Rome was filled with troops. Alleyways and courtyards oozed troops at the first shouts from the piazza: the danger points of the Corso, especially the Piazza Colonna on which the Chigi Palace, the residence of the Austrian Ambassador, fronts, were kept almost constantly empty by cordons of troops. All told, the destruction done by the mobs could not have amounted to several hundred dollars—a few signs and shop windows smashed, a few pavements torn up in the Via Viminale. It is true that after war was declared upon Austria there was some pillage of Austrian and German shops in Milan, which has been greatly exaggerated by the German and pro-German press; it was nothing worse than what happened in Berlin to English residents in August, 1914. And the Italian Government immediately took severe measures with the officials who had permitted the disorders—removing the prefect and the military commander of Milan.
There is no saying, of course, what might have happened had the King offered the premiership to Giolitti, and had that astute politician been rash enough to accept the responsibility of forming a government in accord with his own neutralista sympathies. It is more than likely that revolution would have ensued: possibly Italy would have entered the war as a republic. For the Italians are not Greeks, as has been amply proved. But the King of Italy, whatever his own sympathies may have been, showed plainly that he had enough political understanding not to run counter to the expressed will of his people, to deal with the "traitor." After a week of tempestuous inter-regnum, in which the piazza expressed itself passionately, the Salandra Government returned to power with all which that implied in foreign policy. Then the piazza became quiet. If the piazza must shoulder the responsibility of Italy's decision, it must be credited with knowing marvelously well its own mind.
* * * * *
The constitution of this "mob" is worth attention. I saw it at many angles. I followed its first erratic flights through the streets when Salandra resigned and a gaping void opened before the nation. I waited for the poet's arrival at the Roman station, for hours, while the dense throng of men and women pressed into the great square and swelled like a dark pool into the adjoining streets. And I followed with the "piazza" in its instinctive rush to the hotel on the Pincian Hill to hear the voice of its spokesman. Again I was in the Corso when the plumed cavalry cleared the surging mass from the Piazza Venezia to the Piazza Colonna. I heard the people yell, "Death to the traitor Giolitti!" and "Fuori i barbari!" and sing Mameli's "L'Inno." I saw the uproar melt away in the soft darkness of the Roman nights, leaving the cavalry at their vigil before Santa Maria Maggiore, guarding the repose of Giovanni Giolitti.
I can testify that the "piazza" was composed very largely of perfectly respectable folk like myself. It varied more or less as chance gatherings of men will vary. Sometimes there were more workingmen in dirty clothes, sometimes more youths and boys with their banners, sometimes more shouters and fewer actors. But the core of it was always that same mass of common citizenship that gathered anciently in the Forum, that to-day goes orderly enough to the polls in New York or Chicago,—plain men, rather young than old, who are so distinctly left on the outside of affairs, who must perforce turn to the newspaper for information and to the open street for expression, who relieve themselves of uncomplex emotions by shouting, and who symbolize the things they hate to the depth of their souls with personalities like Giolitti and occasionally shy bricks at the guarded home of authority. All this, yes, but not "riff-raff," not anarchist, nor mafia, nor apache. Nothing of that did I see those days and nights.
The greeting to D'Annunzio was made by men of the professional and intellectual classes I should say, having wormed my way in and out of that vast piazza gathering. The daily crowds before the poet's hotel were composed chiefly of youths, at school or college, others in working dress. The noisiest, most inflammable of all these mobs was that in the Costanzi Theater the evening of D'Annunzio's appearance there. They were citizens—and their wives—who could afford to pay the not inconsiderable price charged—and seats were at a premium. The men around me in evening dress, who were by no means silent, came from the "classes" rather than the masses. The crowds that hung about the Corso and the adjacent squares were more mixed, but they held a goodly proportion of the frequenters of the Cafe Arragno. The worst that could be said against these casual gatherings was their youth. It is the way of youth to vent its passion in speech, to move and not to stand. Middle age stood on the sidewalks and watched, sympathetically. Old age looked down from the windows, contemplatively. But both old age and middle age consorted with youth in the great meetings of consecration in the Piazza del Popolo and the Campidolgio, after the will of the people had prevailed. And after all, youth must fight the wars, and pay for them for long years afterwards—why should it not have its say in the making of them as well as middle age and old age? The youths in the ranks of the patient, good-natured soldiers who did piquet a mato all day and half the night in the Roman streets during that vocal week while the piazza spoke, were openly sympathetic with the mobs they were holding down. I knew some of the gray-clad boys. I strolled along the lines and saw the smiles, heard the chaffing give-and-take of citizen and soldier as the mob tried to rush through the double ranks that cordoned the streets. There was no hatred there, no violent conflict with authority. Each understood the other. The young officers seemed to say to the crowd,—"You may howl all you like, you fellows, but you mustn't throw stones or make a mess.... What's the good! War is coming anyway in a few days—they can't talk it away!" And the crowd replied heartily,—"You are all right. We understand each other. You are doing your duty. Soon you will be doing something better worth while than policing streets and saving that traitor Giolitti's skin from us. You will be chasing the Austrians out of Italian territory, and many of us will be with you then!" And the young officers looked the other way when the members of the "mob" offered the tired soldiers cigarettes and chocolate, and sometimes slipped through the cordon on private business within the forbidden area. Only once, once only in all the excitement did the long-haired horsemen clatter through the streets in a serious charge, scattering the shrieking pedestrians. That was by way of warning, possibly as much to the Government as to the populace.
Then the decision was made, and after the Salandra Ministry, in whom the people had confidence, had returned to power, the ministry that had broken with Austria and refused her grudging compromises, the piazza purred like doves and listened to long patriotic speeches from "representative citizens." No soldiers were needed to keep order in these immense gatherings. For all were citizens, then, piazza and palace alike in the face of war.
* * * * *
One easily understands the German Chancellor's scorn over any irregular expression of public opinion, his disgust that the loose public in the streets dares to vent any emotion or will other than that suggested to it by a strong government, above all daring to voice it passionately. In a nation such as Germany, where the franchise is so hedged about that even those who have it cannot effectively express their wills, where political opinion is supplied from a central fount of authority, where the nation goes into war at the command of the Kaiser and his military advisers, where a war of "defense" and all other national interests are controlled by the "high commandment," consisting at the most of forty or fifty men, while the remaining sixty-five millions of the people are obedient puppets, nourished on falsehoods, where the popular emotion can be turned on like an electric current at the order of the "high commandment,"—now against this enemy, now against that one,—first hate of English, then hate of Italians, now hate of Americans—it is natural that a high government functionary should despise all popular effervescence and misread its manifestations as merely the meretricious, bought noise of the mob, quickly roused in the Southern temperament and badly controlled by a weak, and probably corrupt, government. The elements in the piazza have no power in the close organization of Germany, no political expression whatever: all good citizens are instructed by a carefully controlled press how to think and feel and speak. To my thinking it is rather to the glory of the Latin temperament that it cannot be throttled and guided like the more docile Teuton nature, that when it feels vividly it will express itself, and that it can feel vividly, unselfishly in international concerns. The Latin cannot be made to march in blind obedience into the jaws of death. The piazza merely shouted what Italy had come to feel, that Teutonic domination would be intolerable, that at all cost the Austro-German ambitions must be checked, and the Latin tradition vindicated and made to endure. It was proved by the marvelous content, the fervid unanimity of patriotism that spread over Italy, once the great decision had been made.
* * * * *
Since those full May weeks the world has had an example of what no doubt the Imperial Chancellor considers the suitable method of dealing with popular sentiment. The sympathies of Greeks and Rumanians have been, since the opening of the war, with the allied nations, yet their Teutonized sovereigns have kept both countries from declaring themselves in favor of the Allies. The King of Greece has stretched the constitution to preserve a distasteful neutrality, which, if it were not for the failure of the Allies to make impressive gains in the first year of the war, would have doubtless cost him his crown. The Balkan States are near enough the actual theater of war to suffer acutely from fear, and a natural timidity worked upon by many German agents, more successfully than Prince von Buelow, has thus far kept the people of Rumania and Greece passive in a false neutrality. Bulgaria is a fine example of the perfect working of the German method. The piazza certainly had no hand in the intrigues of King Ferdinand of Bulgaria. The representatives of his people urged him to maintain at least neutrality, not to put the nation at war with its blood kin, against its best interest. But the thing had all been "arranged" between the German King of Bulgaria and the German Government through "negotiation." Germany had been successful in buying the cooeperation of Bulgaria as it tried to buy Italy's neutrality, at the expense of Austria. There were other factors in the case of Bulgaria that worked to the German advantage, but the method is clear. Not the voice of the piazza, but the secret agreement of "responsible government," in other words, the control of despotic, German rulers. Italy may well be proud that she has a sovereign who faithfully interprets his responsibility of rule in a constitutional state and executes the will of his people—who listens also to the voice of the piazza, not merely to the arguments of the foreign diplomat. And Italy may also be proud that the piazza spoke at a dark hour in the Allies' cause, if not the darkest, when German arms were prevailing in the East; if the dangers of German conquest were not as close to Italy as with the Balkan States, they were not remote, as German threats too plainly showed.
The Venezelos-Zaimis situation was impossible in Italy, though the circumstances were almost parallel, with Salandra and Giolitti. The piazza knew the deep Biblical truth, "He who is not for me is against me," and execrated the professed neutralista Giolitti. But the Greeks, it seems, are more easily managed by a "strong" government and a German king. The end, however, is not yet in sight. It remains to be seen whether the path of prudent passivity is the safe one, even selfishly.
* * * * *
Why, after all, should we feel so apologetic for the voice of the piazza? All popular government, even in the limited form of a constitutional monarchy such as Italy, is a rough, uncertain affair. "The House of Savoy rules by executing the will of the Italian people." Good! But how is that popular will to be determined? Not, surely, by taking a poll of the five hundred-odd Deputies of the Italian Parliament elected two years before the world was upset by the Teuton desire to rule. Those Deputies were chosen, as we Americans know only too well how, by mean intrigues of party machines, by clever manipulation of trained politicians like Giovanni Giolitti, who by their control of appointed servants—the prefects of the provinces—can throw the elections as they will, can even disfranchise unfriendly elements of the population. Manhood suffrage is not a precise, a scientific method of getting at public opinion. It is possibly the least accurate method of gauging the will of a people. Something other than the poll is needed to resolve the will of a nation. And when that will is determined it makes little odds what instrumentality expresses it. Even the Giolittian Deputies, when brought to the urn for a secret vote on the Salandra measures a week after the lively expression of popular will in the piazza, voted—secretly—against their neutral leader, in favor of war! They had been converted by the voice of the piazza—by other things also in all likelihood. If their votes had been taken ten days before, when Giolitti first arrived in Rome, the result would have been far different: as Salandra and his colleagues knew. In the end the Italian Parliament merely registered the will of the people, both men and women, which expressed itself, as it always must, in diverse ways, through the press, by the voice of the piazza, in public and private discussion, flightily, weightily, passionately, timidly.
* * * * *
Will, individual or collective, is a mysterious force. What enters into that act of decision which results in will is never wholly apparent, from the least to the gravest matters. And no scheme of government, which admits the right of the individual citizen, plain and exalted alike, to be heard and obeyed, has discovered a perfect way of polling this collective will of the nation. Our electoral representative method and majority vote is surely rough, though better than the Bulgarian way. That right to vote, for which our women are so eagerly striving, as thinking men realize only too well, is an empty privilege. The will of a people is inaccurately registered, not made, by the vote. The voice of the piazza when deep enough and strong enough is as good as any other way, perhaps, of determining the collective will of a nation in a crisis; surely far better than the secret way of Ferdinand of Bulgaria. Further, the reason of the piazza on any vital fundamental matter, such as war, which means life or death, is as sure as your intelligence or mine, possibly surer, because the piazza, having less to lose or gain, feels and believes and acts more simply, basically. The Roman piazza, the people of Italy, reacted to the crime against Belgium, to the atrocities committed on priests and women and children, to the murders of the Lusitania,—all deeds of that ancient enemy whose barbarism had now reappeared, after centuries, under an intellectual and sophisticated mask with a blasphemous perversion of religious sanction. They reacted also, it might be, to their own sense of personal danger from an unprotected frontier dividing them from this unscrupulous enemy, to the wrongs of some thousands of Italians condemned to live under Austrian rule and fight her battles against their friends. They responded also to the glory of Garibaldi's Thousand, who had liberated their fathers from foreign domination and made a nation out of Italy, and they responded to the great past of their people from whom the essential elements of what men know to-day as civilization has spread over the world. All these emotions were hidden in that one cry,—"Out with the barbarians!"
The voice of the piazza, with its simple unanimity, its childlike psychology, came nearer to expressing the soul of Italy than the German Chancellor can comprehend, than any sophisticated diplomat, who has associated only with "thinking" and "leading" people, can believe. The Latin soul of Italy which cursed its politician and thrilled at the words of its poet! That soul of a people which is greater than any individual, which somehow expresses itself more authoritatively through the simple people who must suffer for their faiths than through the intellectuals and the protected members of a society....
"Viva Italia!" the tanned conscript leaning from the car window at Subiaco shouted back to his friends and home. And the old men and girls left in the fields raised their hats as the train passed and shouted in reply,—"Viva Italia!" It was not English gold, nor the desire for Trent and Trieste, that brought that cry to the boy's lips!
Whatever one may think of the piazza voice, whether the disposition is to sneer with the German or to trust with the democrat in its spontaneous expression, it is a matter of history now that Italy's decision had been made before the question came to a vote in the Chamber of Deputies, a fortnight or more before the reluctant ambassadors of the ex-Alliance backed into their waiting trains and departed homeward across the Alps. It is a significant fact of personal psychology that the crisis of a decision takes place before action results to calm the disturbed mind. So it was with Italy. Her decision had really been taken when the Lusitania sank, when the politician, in face of this fresh outrage, advised the safer course of neutrality, which would amount to a connivance with her former associates in their predatory programme. Traditore! meant but one thing—a betrayal of the nation's soul. In the light of more recent events, since Italy entered the war, there are probably many Italians who secretly wish that the safer counsel had prevailed, that, like Greece and Rumania, Italy had "preserved a benevolent neutrality" in the great war, even possibly that she had concluded to make her bed in the Teutonic camp. If the world is to be Teutonized, they would argue, why put one's head in the wolf's jaw! There are prudent people of that stripe in every nation, but since the end of May they have kept silence in Italy. And it should be forever remembered to her honor that Italy made her decision in face of Teutonic successes. If the military situation did not look so black for the Allies at the end of May as it does this December, it looked black enough with the crumbling Russian resistance before Mackensen's phalanx. Neuve Chapelle had been a costly and empty victory. There had been no successful drive in Champagne and Artois to encourage those who bet only on winning cards. There were heavy clouds in the east, merely a sad silence along the western wall. It was long past Easter, when England had boastfully expected to open the Dardanelles and the truth was beginning to appear that Constantinople might never be reached by the allied operations in Gallipoli. Italy threw in her lot with the Allies in a dark hour, if not the darkest.
The great decision which had lain in solution in the hearts of the people was evoked by events and made vocal by the flaming words of D'Annunzio, interpreted by a faithful king, who resisted the temptation to dethrone himself by calling Germany's hired man to power, and finally registered by the Deputies at Montecitorio on May 19. It was virtually made, I say, the tumultuous week that came on the resignation of the Salandra Government. What followed the return of the ministry to power was merely automatic, as peaceful as any day's routine. Parliament was called to meet on Wednesday, the 19th. The Sunday afternoon before, the piazza, and the palace and all other elements of Roman citizenship met in a great gathering of content and consecration at the foot of the Pincian Hill in the Piazza del Popolo, again the day after in the Campidolgio above the Forum. How fortunate a people are to have such hallowed places of meeting, steeped in associations of great events!
It was a warm, brilliant, sunny day, that Sunday, and in the afternoon every one in Rome, it seemed, was as near the Piazza del Popolo as he could get. The meeting was addressed by a number of well-known Romans of varied political affiliations. But the high note of all the speeches was a fervid patriotism and harmony. Rome was calm, believing that it had chosen nobly if not wisely. On the Campidolgio, D'Annunzio again sounded the tocsin of the heroic Thousand, and lauded the army which had been belittled by the followers of Giolitti. Already the troops were leaving Rome.... Then Parliament opened. The meeting of the Deputies if memorable was short. The square and streets about Montecitorio had been carefully cleared and held empty by cordons of troops. There was to be no shouting, no demonstration within hearing of Parliament. Long before midday the Chamber was crowded with all the notables who could gain admission. The proceedings were extremely brief, formal. All knew that the die had been cast: what remained was for the army to accomplish. The Premier Salandra made a brief statement summarizing the diplomatic efforts that his Government had undertaken to reach a satisfactory understanding with Austria, the record of which could be followed in the "Green Book," which was then given to the public. He informed the Chamber, what was generally known, that the Triple Alliance had already been denounced on the 5th of May, and he offered a "project of law," which was tantamount to a vote of confidence in the Government and which also gave the King and his ministers power to make war and to govern the country during the period of war without the intervention of Parliament. It thus authorized both the past acts of the Salandra Ministry and its future course. The measure, undebated, was voted on secretly. And it is significant that of more than five hundred Deputies present only seventy-two voted in the negative. Of these seventy-two who voted against the Government, some were out-and-out neutralistas, and some few were Socialists who had the courage of their convictions. The great majority of the Giolittians must have voted for war. Had they seen a great light since the piazza raised its voice, since their leader had fallen from his high place? Possibly they had never been with Giolitti on this vital national question. At least, the fact illustrates how representative government does roughly perform the will of its people when that will is clear enough and passionate enough: the will registers itself even through unwilling instruments.
After the vote had been taken, the Chamber adjourned, and when the following day the Senate ratified, unanimously, the action of the Chamber of Deputies, Parliament was dissolved. Many of the members enlisted and went to the front. Since the end of May Italy has been autocratically governed. The decrees of the King and his ministers are law—an efficient method of governing a country at war, avoiding those legislative intrigues that latterly have threatened the concord of France.
It is noteworthy that the Italian Senate voted unanimously for war. The Senate is not an elective body. It is composed of dignitaries, old, conservative men from the successful classes of the nation, who are not easily swayed by the emotions of the piazza. From this unrepresentative body might have been expected a show of resistance to the Government's measure, if, as Giolitti and the German party asserted, there was a serious sentiment in the country in favor of neutrality which had been howled down by the mobs. It is inconceivable that such a body could have been completely cowed by rioting in the streets. The unanimous vote of the Italian Senators is sufficient refutation of the Bethmann-Hollweg slur.
* * * * *
As I crossed the Piazza Colonna the morning Parliament opened, my attention was caught by a small crowd before a billboard. First one, then another passer-by stopped, read something affixed there, and, smiling or laughing, passed on his way. In the center of the board was a small black-bordered sheet of paper, with all the mourning emblems, precisely resembling those mortuary announcements which Latin countries employ. It read: "Giovanni Giolitti, this day taken to himself by the Devil, lamented by his faithful friends"; and there followed a list of noted Giolittians, some of whom even then were voting for war with Austria. A bit of Roman ribaldry, specimen of that ebullition of the piazza disdained by the German Chancellor; nevertheless, it must have bit through the hide of the politician, who for the sake of his safety was not among the Deputies voting at Montecitorio. Later I read in a Paris newspaper that Giolitti was to spend the summer as far away from the disturbance of war as he could get, in the Pyrenees, but it was rumored in Paris that the French Government, having intimated to its new ally that it did not wish to harbor Giolitti, the Italian politician was forced to remain at home. I believe that once since the "Caro Carlo" letter he has spoken to his countrymen, a patriotic interview in which he announced that he had been converted to the necessity of the war with Austria! Thus even the politician comes to see light. But Giovanni Giolitti, as the black-bordered card said, is dead politically.
* * * * *
With the votes of Parliament the Roman part in the drama, the civil part, was ended. Rome began to empty fast of soldiers, officers, officials. The scene had shifted to the north, where the hearts of all Italians were centered. There was a singular calm in the city. One other memorable meeting should be recorded, on the Saturday afternoon following the Parliamentary decision. If popular manifestations count for anything, the dense throng in the Campidolgio and later the same afternoon before the Quirinal Palace demonstrated the enthusiasm with which the certainty of war with Austria was accepted.
There are few lovelier spots on earth than the little square of the Campidolgio on the Capitoline Hill and none more laden with memories of a long past. Led by a sure instinct the people of Rome crowded up the steep passages that led to the crest of the hill, by tens of thousands. In this hour of the New Resurrection of Italy, the people sought the hearthstone of ancient Rome on the Capitoline. About the pillars of the Cancelleria, which stands on Roman foundations, up the long flight of steps leading to the Aracoeli, even under the belly of the bronze horse in the center of the square, Italians thrust themselves. Rome was never more beautiful than that afternoon. Little fleecy clouds were floating across the deep blue sky. The vivid green of the cypresses on the slope below were stained with the red and white of blooming roses. In the distance swam the dome of St. Peter's, across the bend of the Tiber, and through the rift between the crowded palaces one might look down upon the peaceful Forum. The birthplace of the nation! Here it was that the people, the decision having been made to play their part in the destiny of the new world now in the making, came to rejoice. The spirit of the throng was entirely festal. And these were the people, working-men and their wives and mothers from the dark corners of old Rome, neither hoodlums nor aristocracy, the people whose men for the most part were already joining the colors.
The flags of the unredeemed provinces together with the Italian flag were borne through the crowd up the steps of the municipal palace to wave beside Prince Colonna, as he appeared from within the palace. Mayor of Rome, he had that afternoon resigned his position in order to join the army with his sons. Handsome, with a Roman face that reminded one of the portrait busts of his ancestors in the Capitoline Museum close by, he stood silent above the great multitude. The time for oratory had passed. He raised his hands and shouted with a full voice—"Viva Italia!" and was silent. It was as if one of the conscript fathers had returned to his city to pronounce a benediction upon the act of his descendants. The people repeated the cry again and again, then broke into the beautiful words of Mameli's "L'Inno,"—"Fratelli d' Italia."
Then the gathering turned to cross the city to the Quirinal, where the King had promised to meet them. The way led past one of the two Austrian embassies in the Piazza Venezia—a danger spot throughout the agitation; but this afternoon the crowd streamed by without swerving, intent on better things. On the Quirinal Hill, between the royal palace and the Consulta, where the diplomatic conferences are held, the people packed in again. The roofs of the neighboring palaces were lined with spectators and every window except those of the royal palace was filled with faces. On the balcony above the palace gate some footmen were arranging a red velvet hanging. Then the royal family stepped out from the room behind. The King, with his little son at his side, stood bareheaded while the crowd cheered. On his other side were the Queen and her two daughters. King Victor, whose face was very grave, bowed repeatedly to the cheering people, but said no word. The little prince stared out into the crowd with serious intensity, as if he already knew that what was being done these days might well cost him his father's throne. The people cried again and again,—"Viva Italia, viva il re"; also more rarely, "Imperio Romano!" At the end the King spoke, merely,—"Viva Italia, mi!"
Perhaps the presence of the German and the Austrian Ambassadors, who that very hour were at the Consulta vainly trying to arrange a bargain, restrained the King from saying more to his people then. Possibly he felt that the occasion was beyond any words. His face was set and worn. The full passion of the decision had passed through him. His people had desired war, and he had faithfully followed their will. Yet he more than any one in that crowd must know the terrible risk, the awful cost of this war. Those national aspirations for which his country was to strive,—Trent and Trieste, Istraia and the Dalmatian coast, in all a few hundred miles of territory, a few millions of people,—the well informed were saying would cost one hundred and fifty thousand Italian soldiers a month, to pick the locks that Austria had put along her Alpine frontier! No wonder the King of Italy met his people after the great decision in solemn mood.
* * * * *
The crowd melted from the Quirinal Square in every direction, content. Some stopped to cheer in front of the Ministry of War, which these days and nights was busy as a factory working overtime and night shifts. People were reading the newspapers, which in default of more vivid news contained copious extracts from the "Libro Verde." Yet the "Green Book" was not even now completed!
The politician had spoken, the poet had said his fiery word to the people, the piazza had hurled its will, Parliament had acted and gone its way, the army staff was hastening north. Yet the Austrian Ambassador and his German colleague had not taken the trains waiting for them outside the Porta Pia with steam up. It was a mystery why they were lingering on in a country on the verge of hostilities, where they were so obviously not wanted any longer. Daily since Parliament had voted they had been at the Consulta—were there now in this solemn hour of understanding between the King and his people! Singly and together they were conferring with Baron Sonnino and the Premier. What were they offering? We know now that at this last moment of the eleventh hour Austria had wakened to the real gravity of the situation, and with Teutonic pertinacity and Teutonic dullness of perception made her first real offer—the immediate cession and occupation of the ceded territories she had set as her maximum, a thing she had refused all along to consider, insisting that the transfer be deferred to the vague settlement time of the "Peace." I do not know that if she had frankly started the negotiations with this essential concession, it would have made any real difference. I think not. Her maximum was insufficient: it nowhere provided for that defensible frontier, and it was but a meager satisfaction of those other aspirations of nationality which she despised. It still left a good many Italians outside of the national fold, and it still left Italy exposed to whatever strong hand might gain control on the east shores of the Adriatic. At all events, in this last moment of the eleventh hour, if the ambassadors had been authorized to yield all that Baron Sonnino had begun by asking, it would not have kept Italy from the war—now.
Elsewhere I have dealt with the legal and strategic questions involved in the "Green Book." These diplomatic briefs, White or Yellow or Orange or Green, seem more important at the moment than in perspective. They are all we observers have of definite reason to think upon. But nations do not go to war for the reasons assigned in them—nothing is clearer than that. Like the lengthy briefs in some famous law case, they are but the intellectual counters that men use to mask their passions, their instincts, their faiths. According to the briefs both sides should win and neither. And the blanks between the lines of these diplomatic briefs are often more significant than the printed words.
While Baron Macchio and Prince von Buelow, the Ballplatz and Friedrichstrasse, Baron Sonnino and his colleagues were making the substance of the "Green Book," the people of Italy were deciding the momentous question on their own grounds. The spirit of all Italy was roused. Italian patriotism gave the answer.
* * * * *
"Viva Italia!" the boy conscript shouted, leaning far out of the car window in a last look at the familiar fields and roof of his native village. "Viva Italia!" the King of Italy cried, and his people responded with a mighty shout,—"Viva Italia!" What do they mean? In the simplest, the most primitive sense they mean literally the earth, the trees, the homes they have always known—the physical body of the mother country. And this primal love of the earth that has borne you and your ancestors seems to me infinitely stronger, more passionate with the European than with the American. We roam: our frontiers are still horizons.... But even for the simple peasant lad, joining the colors to fight for his country, patriotism is something more complex than love of native soil. It is love of life as he has known it, its tongue, its customs, its aspects. It is love of the religion he has known, of the black or brown or yellow-haired mother he knows—of the women of his race, of the men of his race, and their kind.
Deeper yet, scarce conscious to the simple instinctive man, patriotism is belief in the tradition that has made you what you are, in the ideal that your ancestors have seeded in you of what life should be. Therefore, patriotism is the better part of man, his ideal of life woven in with his tissue. Men have always fought for these things,—for their own earth, for their own kind, for their own ideal,—and they will continue to give their blood for them as long as they are men, until wrong and unreason and aggression are effaced from the earth. The pale concept of internationalism, whether a class interest of the worker or an intellectual ideal of total humanity, cannot maintain itself before the passion of patriotism, as this year of fierce war has proved beyond discussion.
Italian patriotism, which in the last analysis Italy evinced in making war against Austria, was composed of all three elements. Italian patriotism is loyalty to the Italian tradition, hence to the Latin ideal which is fighting a death battle with the Teutonic tradition and ideal. Teutonism—militaristic, efficient, materialistic, unimaginative, unindividual—has challenged openly the world. Italy responded nobly to that challenge.
The Eve of the War
Rome became still, so still as to be oppressive. Her heart was elsewhere,—in the north whither the King was about to go. Rome, like all the war capitals, having played her part must relapse more and more into a state of waiting and watching, stirred occasionally by rumors and rejoicings. The streets were empty, for all men of military age had gone and others had returned to their normal occupations. Officers hurried toward the station in cabs with their boxes piled before them. And the sound of marching troops also on the way to the station did not cease at once.
Saturday, the 22d of May, I took the night express for Venice. The train of first- and second-class coaches was longer than usual, filled with officers rejoining their regiments which had already gone north in the slower troop trains. There were also certain swarthy persons in civilian garb, whom it took no great divination to recognize as secret police agents. The spy mania had begun. Theirs was the hopeless task of sorting out civilian enemies from nationals, which, thanks to the complexity of modern international relations, is like picking needles from a haystack. My papers, however, were all in order, and so far there had been no restrictions on travel; in fact no military zone had been declared, because as yet there was no war! When would the declaration come? In another week? I settled myself comfortably in my corner opposite a stout captain who rolled himself in his gray cloak and went to sleep. Other officers wandered restlessly to and fro in the corridor outside, discussing the coming war. It was a heavenly summer night. The Umbrian Hills swam before us in the clear moonlight as the train passed north over the familiar, beautiful route. If Germany should strike from behind at Milan, exposing the north of Italy? One shuddered. After Belgium Germany was capable of any attack, and Germany was expected then to go with her ally.
One thing was evident over and above the beauty of the moonlit country through which we were rushing at a good pace, and that was the remarkable improvement in Italian railroading since my last visit to Italy a dozen years before. This was a modern rock-ballasted, double-tracked roadbed, which accounted in part for the rapidity and ease of the troop movements these last months. The ordinary passenger traffic had scarcely been interrupted even now on the eve of war. The terrors of the mobilization period, thanks to Italy's efficient preparation, were unfounded. It spoke well for Italy at war. It was a sign of her economic development, her modernization. Even Germany had not gone into the business of war more methodically, more efficiently. Italy, to be sure, had nine months for her preparation, but to one who remembered the country during the Abyssinian expedition, time alone would not explain the improvement.
The railroad stations at Florence and Bologna were under military control, the quays patrolled, the exits guarded, the buildings stuffed with soldiers. I could see their sleeping forms huddled in the straw of the cattle cars on the sidings, also long trains of artillery and supplies. Shortly after daylight the guards pulled down our shutters and warned us against looking out of the windows for the remainder of the journey. A childish precaution, it seemed, which the officers constantly disregarded. But when I peeped at the sunny fields of the flat Lombard plain, one of the swarthy men in civilian black leaned over and firmly pulled down the shade. Italy was taking her war seriously.
At Mestre we lost the officers: they were going north to Udine and—beyond. The almost empty train rolled into the Venetian station only an hour late. The quay outside the station was strangely silent, with none of that noisy crew of boatmen trying to capture arriving forestieri. They had gone to the war. One old man, the figure of Charon on his dingy poop, sole survivor of the gay tribe, took me aboard and ferried me through the network of silent canals toward the piazza. Dismantled boats lay up along the waterways, the windows of the palaces were tightly shuttered, and many bore paper signs of renting. "The Austrians," Charon laconically informed me. It would seem that Venice had been almost an Austrian possession, so much emptiness was left at her flight. But within the little squares and along the winding stony lanes between the ancient palaces, Venice was alive with citizens and soldiers—and very much herself for the first time in many centuries. The famous piazza recalled the processional pictures of Guardi. Only the companies of soldiers that marched through it on their way to the station were not gorgeously robed: they were in dirty gray with heavy kits on their backs. The bronze horses were being lowered from St. Mark's, one of them poised in midair with his ramping legs in a sling. Inside the church a heavy wooden truss had been put in place to strengthen the arch of gleaming mosaics. There was a tall hoarding of fresh boards along the water side of the Ducal Palace, and the masons were fast filling in the arches with brick supports. Venice was putting herself in readiness for the enemy. Even the golden angel on the new Campanile had been shrouded in black in order that she might not attract a winged monster by her gleam. From many a palace roof aerial guns were pointed to the sky, and squads of soldiers patrolled the platforms that had been hastily built to hold them.
Out at San Niccolo da Lido, where I supped at a little osteria beneath the trees, a number of gray torpedo boats rushed to and fro in the harbor entrance, restless as hunting dogs straining at the leash. That night Venice was dark, so black that one stumbled from wall to wall along the narrow lanes in the search for his own doorway. War was close at hand: the menace of it, a few miles, a few hours only away, across the blue Adriatic, at Pola. In order to understand the significance of frontiers an American should be in Venice on the eve of war.
* * * * *
Some hours later I awoke startled from a heavy sleep, the reverberation of a dream ringing in my ears. It was not yet dawn. In the gray-blue light outside the birds were wheeling in frightened circles above the garden below my balcony. Mingled in my dreams with the disturbing noise was the song of a nightingale—and then there came another dull, thunderous explosion, followed immediately by the long whine and shriek of sirens at the arsenal, also the crackle of machine guns from all sides. Now I realized what it meant. It was war. The Austrians had taken this way to acknowledge Italy's defiance. The enemy had threatened to destroy Venice, and this was their first attempt. Above the sputter of the machine guns and the occasional explosions of shrapnel could be distinguished the buzz of an aeroplane that moment by moment approached nearer. Soon the machine itself became visible, flying oddly enough from the land direction, not from the Adriatic. It flew high and directly, across Venice, aiming apparently for the arsenal, the Lido, the open sea.
It was an unreality, that little winged object aloft like a large aerial beetle buzzing busily through the still gray morning sky, heading straight with human intelligence in a set line, bent on destruction. The bombs could not be seen as they fell, of course, but while I gazed into the heavens another thunderous explosion came from near by, which I took to be the aviator's bomb, distinguished by the sharpness of its explosion from the anti-aircraft bombardment. Other guns along the route of the enemy took up the attack, then gradually all became silent once more. Only the cries of the frightened birds circling above the garden and the voices of the awakened inhabitants could be heard. From every window and balcony half-dressed people watched the flight of the monoplane until it had disappeared in the vague dawn beyond St. Mark's.
In another half-hour the sirens shrieked again and the machine gun on the roof of the Papadopoli Palace just below on the Grand Canal began to sputter. This time every one knew what it meant and there was a large gathering on the balconies and in the little squares to witness the arrival of the hostile aeroplane. It was another monoplane coming from the same land direction, flying much lower than the first one, so low that its hooded aviator could be distinguished and the bands of color across the belly of the car. It skirted the city toward the Adriatic more cautiously. Later it was rumored that the second aeroplane had been brought down in the lagoons and its men captured.
Thereafter no one tried to sleep: the little Venetian bridges and passages were filled with talking people, and rumors of the damage done began to come in. Eleven bombs in all were dropped on this first attack, killing nobody and doing no serious harm, except possibly at the arsenal where one fell. I was at the local police station when one of the unexploded bombs was brought in. It was of the incendiary type containing petroleum. Also there had been picked up somewhere in the canals the half of a Munich newspaper, which seemed to indicate, although there was nothing of special significance in the sheet, that the monoplane was German rather than Austrian. Yet Germany had not yet declared war on Italy. But was it not the German Kaiser who had threatened to destroy Italy's art treasures? Were not the German armies in Flanders and France making war against defenceless, unmilitary monuments?
* * * * *
I realized now the necessity of those preparations to guard the treasures of Venice, priceless and irreplaceable—why the Belle Arti had been emptied, and the Colleoni trussed with an ugly wooden framework. But little at the best could be done to protect Venice herself, which lies exposed in all her fragile loveliness to the attacks of the new Vandals. The delicate palaces,—already crumbling from age,—the marvelous facade of the Ducal Palace with its lustrous color, the leaning campanili, the little churches filled with noble monuments to its great ones,—all were helpless before an aerial attack, or shelling from warships. Nothing could save Venice from even a slight bombardment, quite apart from such pounding as the Germans have given Rheims, or Arras, or Ypres. At the first hostile blow Venice would sink into the sea, a mass of ruins, returning thus bereaved to her ancient bridegroom.
Italy is aware of the vengeful warfare she must expect. Great preparations for the defense of Venice have been made. The city might be ruined; it could not be taken. The gray destroyers moving in and out past the Zattere contrasted strangely with the tiny gondolas shaped like pygmy triremes. It was the mingling of two worlds,—the world of the gondola, the marble palace of the doges, of the jeweled church of St. Mark's, and the world of the torpedo boat and the aerial bomb,—the world as man is making it to-day. The old Venetians were good fighters, to be sure, not to say quarrelsome. War was never long absent, as may easily be realized from the great battle-pieces in the Ducal Palace. But war then was more the rough play of boisterous children than the slaughterous, purely destructive thing that modern men have made it. And when those old Venetians were not fighting, they were building greatly, beautifully, lovingly: they were making life resplendent.
That awakening in the early dawn into the modern world of distant enemies and secret deadly missiles was unforgettable. Some one showed me a steel arrow which had been dropped within the arsenal, a small, sharpened, nail-like thing that would transfix a body from head to feet. These arrows are dumped over by the thousands to fall where they will. That little machine a mile and more aloft in the sky, busily buzzing its way across the heavens, is the true symbol of war today, not face to face except on rare occasions, but hellish in its impersonal will to destroy.
* * * * *
A wonderful day dawned on Venice after the departure of the hostile aeroplanes, a day among days, and all the Venetians were abroad. The attack which brought home the actual dangers to them did not seem to dull their lively spirits. They were busy in the quaint aquatic manner of Venice. The little shops were full of people, the boatmen reviled one another in the narrow canals as they squeezed past, the vaporetti and the motor-boats snorted up and down the Grand Canal.
Venice seemingly had accepted her liability to night attack as a new condition of her peculiar life.
There were more soldiers than ever moving in the narrow, winding footpaths, the restaurants were full of officers in fresh uniforms. On the water-front beyond the Salute there was much movement among the destroyers. One of these gray seabirds went out at midnight, when war was declared, and took a small Austrian station on the Adriatic. They brought back some prisoners and booty which seemed to interest the Venetians more than the hostile aeroplanes.
Yet with all this warlike activity it was hard to realize the fact of war in Italy, to remember that just over the low line of the Lido the hostile fleets were looking for each other in the Adriatic, that a few miles to the north the attack had begun all along the twisting frontier, that the first caravan of the wounded had started for Padua. As I floated that afternoon over the lagoons past the Giudecca, and the blue Euganean Hills rose out of the gray mist that seems ever to hang on the Venetian horizon, it was impossible to believe in the fact, to realize that all this human beauty around me, the slow accumulation of the ages of the finest work of man, was in danger of eternal destruction. Venice rose from the green sea water like the city of enchantment that Turner so often painted. Venice was never so lovely, so wholly the palace of enchantment as she was then, stripped of all the tourist triviality and vulgarity that she usually endures at this season. It was Venice left to her ancient self in this hour of her danger. She was like a marvelous, fragile, still beautiful great lady, so delicate that the least violence might kill her! In this dying light of the day she was already something unearthly, on the extreme marge of our modern world....
That evening the restaurant windows were covered tight with shutters and heavy screens before the doors. The waiter put a candle in a saucer before your plate and you ate your food in this wavering light. There was not the usual temptation to linger in the piazza after dinner, for the cafes were all sealed against a betraying gleam of light and the Venetian public had taken to heart the posted advice to stay within doors and draw their wooden shutters. As I entered my room, the moon was rising behind the Salute, throwing its light across the Canal on to the walls of the palaces opposite. The soft night was full of murmuring voices, for Venice is the most vocal of cities. The people were exchanging views across their waterways from darkened house to house, speculating on the chances of another aerial raid tonight. They were making salty jokes about their enemies in the Venetian manner. The moonlight illuminated the broad waterway beneath my window with its shuttered palaces as if it were already day. A solitary gondola came around the bend of the Canal and its boatman began to sing one of the familiar songs that once was bawled from illuminated barges on spring nights like this, for the benefit of the tourists in the hotels. To-night he was singing it for himself, because of the soft radiance of the night, because of Venice. His song rose from the silver ripple of the waves below, and in the little garden behind the nightingale began to sing. Had he also forgotten the disturber of this morning and opened his heart in the old way to the moonlight May night and to Venice?
* * * * *
The enemy did not return that night, the moon gave too clear a light. But a few evenings later, when the sky was covered with soft clouds, there was an alarm and the guns mounted on the palace roofs began again bombarding the heavens. This time the darkness was shot by comet-like flashes of light, and the exploding shells gave a strange pyrotechnic aspect to the battle in the air. Again the enemy fled across the Adriatic without having done any special damage. Only a few old houses in the poorer quarter near the arsenal were crumbled to dust.
Since that first week of the war the aeroplane attacks upon Venice have been repeated a number of times, and though the bombs have fallen perilously near precious things, until the Tiepolo frescoes in the Scalsi church were ruined, no great harm had been done. The military excuse—if after Rheims and Arras the Teuton needed an excuse—is the great arsenal in Venice. The real reason, of course, is that Venice is the most easily touched, most precious of all Italian treasure cities, and the Teuton, as a French general said to me, wages war not merely upon soldiers, but also upon women and children and monuments. It is vengefulness, lust of destruction, that tempts the Austrian aeroplanes across the Adriatic—the essential spirit of the barbarian which the Latin abhors.
* * * * *
There are some things in this world that can never be replaced once destroyed, and Venice is one of them. And there are some things greater than power, efficiency, and all kaiserliche Kultur. Such is Italy with its ever-renewed, inexhaustible youth, its treasure of deathless beauty. As I passed through the fertile fields on my way from Venice to Milan and the north, I understood as never before the inner reason for Italy's entering the war. The heritage of beauty, of humane civilization,—the love of freedom for the individual, the golden mean between liberty and license that is the Latin inheritance,—all this compelled young Italy to fight, not merely for her own preservation, but also for the preservation of these things in the world against the force that would destroy. The spirit that created the Latin has not died. "We would not be an Inn, a Museum," the poet said, and at the risk of all her jewels Italy bravely defied the enemy across the Alps. This war on which she had embarked after nine long months of preparation is no mere adventure after stolen land, as the Germans would have it: it is a fight unto death between two opposed principles of life.
"He who is not for me is against me." There is no possible neutrality on the greater issues of life.
The Face of Paris
I shall never forget the poignant impression that Paris made on me that first morning in early June when I descended from the train at the Gare de Lyon. After a time I came to accept the new aspect of things as normal, to forget what Paris had been before the war, but as with persons so with places the first impression often gives a deeper, keener insight into character than repeated contacts. I knew that the German invasion, which had swept so close to the city in the first weeks of the war, and which after all the anxious winter months was still no farther than an hour's motor ride from Paris, must have wrought a profound change in this, the most personal of cities. One read of the scarcity of men on the streets, of the lack of cabs, of shuttered shops, of women and girls performing the ordinary tasks of men, of the ever-rising tide of convalescent wounded, etc. But no written words are able to convey the whole meaning of things: one must see with one's own eyes, must feel subconsciously the many details that go to make truth.
When the long train from Switzerland pulled into the station there were enough old men and boys to take the travelers' bags, which is not always the case these war times when every sort of worker has much more than two hands can do. There were men waiters in the station restaurant where I took my morning coffee. It is odd how quickly one scanned these protected workers with the instinctive question—"Why are you too not fighting for your country?" But if not old or decrepit, it was safe to say that these civilian workers were either women or foreigners—Greeks, Balkans, or Spanish, attracted to Paris by opportunities for employment. For the entire French nation was practically mobilized, including women and children, so much of the daily labor was done by them. The little cafe was full of men,—almost every one in some sort of uniform,—drinking their coffee and scanning the morning papers. Everybody in Paris seemed to read newspapers all day long,—the cabmen as they drove, the passers-by as they walked hastily on their errands, the waiters in the cafes,—and yet they told so little of what was going on la-bas!.... The silence in the restaurant seemed peculiarly dead. A gathering of Parisians no matter where, as I remembered, was rarely silent, a French cafe never. But I soon realized that one of the significant aspects of the new France since the war was its taciturnity, its silence. Almost all faces were gravely preoccupied with the national task, and whatever their own small part in it might be, it was too serious a matter to encourage chattering, gesticulating, or disputing in the pleasant Latin way.
Will the French ever recover wholly their habit of free, careless, expressive speech? Of all the peoples under the trials of this war they have become by general report the most sternly, grimly silent. Compared with them the English, deemed by nature taciturn, have become almost hysterically voluble. They complain, apologize, accuse, recriminate. Each new manifestation of Teutonic strategy has evoked from the English a flood of outraged comment. But from the beginning the French have wasted no time on such betise as they would call it: they have put all their energies into their business, which as every French creature knows is to fight this war through to a triumphant end—and not talk. An extraordinary reversal of national temperaments that! From the mobilization hour it was the same thing: every Frenchman knew what it meant, the hour of supreme trial for his country, and he went about his part in it with set face, without the beating of drums, and he has kept that mood since. Henri Lavedan, in a little sketch of the reunion between a poilu, on leave after nine months' absence in the trenches, and his wife, has caught this significant note. The good woman has gently reproached her husband for not being more talkative, not telling her any of his experiences. The soldier says,—"One doesn't talk about it, little one, one does it. And he who talks war doesn't fight.... Later, I'll tell you, after, when it is signed!"
* * * * *
There were plenty of cabs and taxis on the streets by the time I reached Paris, rather dangerously driven by strangers ignorant of the ramifications of the great city and of the complexities of motor engines. Most of the tram-lines were running, and the metro gave full service until eleven at night, employing many young women as conductors—and they made neat, capable workers. Many of the shops, especially along the boulevards, were open for a listless business, although the shutters were often up, with the little sign on them announcing that the place was closed because the patron was mobilized. And there was a steady stream of people on the sidewalks of all main thoroughfares,—at least while daylight lasted, for the streets emptied rapidly after dark when a dim lamp at the intersection of streets gave all the light there was—quite brilliant to me after the total obscurity of Venice at night! But my French and American friends, who had lived in Paris all through the crisis before the battle of the Marne,—with the exodus of a million or so inhabitants streaming out along the southern routes, the dark, empty, winter streets,—found Paris almost normal. The restaurants were going, the hotels were almost all open, except the large ones on the Champs Elysees that had been transformed into hospitals. At noon one would find something like the old frivol in the Ritz Restaurant,—large parties of much-dressed and much-eating women. For the parasites were fluttering back or resting on their way to and from the Riviera, Switzerland, New York, and London. The Opera Comique gave several performances of familiar operas each week, rendered patriotic by the recitation of the Marseillaise by Madame Chenal clothed in the national colors with a mighty Roman sword with which to emphasize "Aux armes, citoyens!" The Francaise also was open several times a week and some of the smaller theaters as well as the omnipresent cinema shows, advertising reels fresh from the front by special permission of the general staff.
The cafes along the boulevards did a fair business every afternoon, but there was a striking absence of uniforms in them owing to the strict enforcement of the posted regulations against selling liquor to soldiers. That and the peremptory closing of cafes and restaurants at ten-thirty reminded the stranger that Paris was still an "entrenched camp" under military law with General Gallieni as governor.... The number of women one saw at the cafes, sitting listlessly about the little tables, usually without male companions, indicated one of the minor miseries of the great war. For the midinette and the femme galante there seemed nothing to do. A paternal government had found occupation and pay for all other classes of women, also a franc and a half a day for the soldier's wife or mother, but the daughter of joy was left very joyless indeed, with the cold misery of a room from which she could not be evicted "pendant la guerre." They haunted the cafes, the boulevards,—ominous, pitiful specters of the manless world the war was making.
Hucksters' carts lined the side streets about the Marche Saint-Honore as usual, and I could not see that prices of food had risen abnormally in spite of complaints in the newspapers and the discussion about cold storage in the Chamber of Deputies. Restaurant portions were parsimonious and prices high as usual, but the hotels made specially low rates, "pendant la guerre," which the English took advantage of in large numbers. The Latin Quarter seemed harder hit by the war than other quarters, emptier, as at the end of a long vacation; around the Arch there was a subdued movement as between seasons. The people were there, but did not show themselves. One went to a simple dinner a la guerre at an early hour. All, even purely fashionable persons, were too much occupied by grave realities and duties to make an effort for forms and ceremonies. Life suddenly had become terribly uncomplex, even for the sophisticated. In these surface ways living in Paris was like going back a century or so to a society much less highly geared than the one we are accustomed to. I liked it.
* * * * *
Even at its busiest hours Paris gave a peculiar sense of emptiness, hard to account for when all about men and women and vehicles were moving, when it was best to look carefully before crossing the streets. It could not be due wholly to the absence of men and the diminution of business—there was at least half of the ordinary volume of movement. Nor was it altogether a cessation of that soft roar of traffic which ordinarily enveloped Paris day and night. It was not exactly like Paris on Sunday—except in the rue de la Paix—as I remembered Paris Sundays. No, it was something quite new—the physical expression of that inner silence, of that tenacity of mute will which I read in all the faces that passed me. Paris was living within, or beyond—la-bas, all along those hundreds of miles of earth walls from Flanders to the Vosges, where for nine months their men had faced the invader.
Most of the women one met were in black, almost every one wearing some sort of mourning, for there was scarcely a family in France that had not already paid its toll of life, many several times over. But the faces of these women in black were calm and dry-eyed: there were few outward signs of grief other than the mourning clothes, just an enduring silence. "The time for our mourning is not yet," a Frenchman said whose immediate family circle had given seven of its members. With some, one felt, the time for weeping would never come: they had transmuted their personal woe into devotion to others....
There was little loitering and gazing in at shop windows, few shoppers in the empty stores these days. Everybody seemed to have something important that must be done at once and had best be done in sober silence. Even the wounded had lost the habit of telling their troubles. Doctors and nurses related as one of the interesting phenomena in the hospitals this dislike of talking about what they had been through, even among the common soldiers. Most likely their experiences had been too horrible for gossip. There was a conspiracy of silence, a tacit recognition of the futility of words, and almost never a complaint! One day a soldier walked a block to give me a direction, and in reply to my inquiry pointed to his lower jaw where a deep wound was hidden in a thick beard. "A ball," he said simply. It was the second wound he had received, and that night he was going back to his depot. For they went back again and again into that hell so close to this peaceful Paris, and what happened there was too bad for words. It must be endured in silence.
There were not many troops on the streets,—at least French soldiers and officers; there was a surprising number of English of all branches of the service and a few Belgians. The French were either at the front or in their depots outside the city. On the Fourteenth of July, when the remains of Rouget de Lisle, the author of the Marseillaise, were brought to the Invalides, a few companies of city guards on horseback and of colonial troops in soiled uniforms formed the escort down the Champs Elysees behind the ancient gun carriage that bore the poet's ashes. There were many wounded soldiers, hopelessly crippled or convalescing, in the theaters, at the cafes, and on the streets. As the weeks passed they seemed to become more numerous, though the authorities had taken pains to keep Paris comparatively empty of the wounded. One met them hobbling down the Elysees under the shade of the chestnut trees, in the metro, at the cafes, the legless and armless, also the more horrible ones whose faces had been shot awry. They were so young, so white-faced, with life's long road ahead to be traveled, thus handicapped! There was something wistful often in their silent eyes.
To cope with the grist of wounded, the mass of refugees and destitute, Paris was filled with relief organizations. The sign of some "oeuvre" decorated every other building of any size, it seemed. Apart from the numerous hospitals, there were hostels for the refugee women and children, who earlier in the war had poured into Paris from the north and east, workrooms for making garments, distributing agencies, etc. All civilian Paris had turned itself into one vast relief organization to do what it could to stanch the wounds of France. Of the relief and hospital side of Paris I have the space to say little: much has been written of it by those more competent than I. But in passing I cannot refrain from my word of gratitude to those generous Americans who by their acts and their gifts have put in splendid relief the timid inanities of our official diplomacy. While the President has been exchanging futile words with the Barbarian over the murders on the Lusitania, to the bewilderment and contempt of the French nation, the American Ambulance at Neuilly has offered splendid testimony to the real feelings of the vast majority of true Americans, also an excellent example of the generous American way of doing things. That great hospital, as well as the American Clearing-House and the individual efforts of many American men and women working in numberless organizations, encourage a citizen from our rich republic to hold up his head in spite of German-American disloyalty, gambling in munitions stocks, and official timidity.
* * * * *
Already the French had realized the necessity of creating agencies for bringing back into a life of activity and service the large numbers of seriously wounded—to find for them suitable labor and to reeducate their crippled faculties so that they could support themselves and take heart once more. Schools were started for the blind and the deaf, of whom the war has made a fearful number. I remember meeting one of these pupils, a young officer, blind, with one arm gone, and wounded in the face. On his breast was the Service Cross and the cross of the Legion of Honor. He was led into the room by his wife, a young school teacher from Algeria, who had given up her position and come to Paris to nurse her fiance back to life and hope. He was being taught telegraphy by an American teacher of the blind.
In such ways the people of Paris kept themselves from eating their hearts out in grief and anxiety.
* * * * *
At three o'clock in the afternoons, when the day's communique was given out from the War Office, little groups gathered in front of the windows of certain shops where the official report was posted. They would scan the usually colorless lines in silence and turn away, as though saying to themselves,—"Not to-day—then to-morrow!" The newsless newspapers abounded in something perhaps more heartening than favorable reports from the front—an endless chronicle of bravery and devotion, of valor, heroism, and chivalry in the trench. That is what fed the anxious hearts of the waiting people, details of the large, heroic picture that France was creating so near at hand, la-bas.
There were few occasions for popular gatherings. The taste for "demonstrations" of any sort had gone out of the people. Sympathetic crowds met the trains from Switzerland that contained the first of the "grands blesses" the militarily useless wounded whom Germany at last concluded to give back to their homes. And I recall one pathetic sight which I witnessed by accident—the arrival of one of the long trains from the front bringing back the first "permissionnaires" those soldiers who had been given a three or four days' leave after nine months in the trenches. In front of the Gare de l'Est a great throng of women and children were kept back by rope and police, until at the appearance of the uniformed men at the exit they surged forward and sought out each her own man. There were little laughs and sobs and kisses under the flaring gas lamps of the station yard until the last poilu had been claimed, and the crowd melted away into Paris.
* * * * *
Across the street from my hotel there was an elementary school; several times each day a buzz of children's voices rose from the leafy yard into which they were let out for their recess. Again the thin chorus of children's voices came from the schoolroom. It seemed the one completely natural thing in Paris, the one living thing unconscious of the war. Yet even the school children were learning history in a way they will never forget. In one of the provincial schools visited by an inspector, all the pupils rose as a crippled child hobbled into the schoolroom. "He suffered from the Germans," the teacher explained. "His mates always rise when he appears." A French mother walking with her little boy in one of the parks met a legless soldier, and turning to her child she said sternly, as if to teach an unforgettable lesson,—"Do you see that legless man? The Boches did that—remember it!" In these ways the new generation is learning its history, and it is not likely to forget it for many years to come.
* * * * *
At dawn and dusk in Paris one was likely to hear the familiar buzz of the aeroplane, and looking aloft could detect a dark spot in the clear June sky—one of the aerial guard that keeps perpetual watch over Paris. Sometimes when I came home at night through the dark streets I could see the silver beams of their searchlights sweeping like a friendly comet through the heavens, or watch the dimmed lamp glowing like a red Mars among the lower stars, rising and falling from space to space. Often I was awakened in the gray dawn by the persistent hum of this winged sentry and looked down from my balcony into the misty city beneath, securely sleeping, thanks to the incessant watchfulness of these "eyes of Paris." The aviator would make wide circles above the silent city, then swiftly turn back toward Issy and breakfast. Thanks to the activity of the aerial guard the Zeppelins have done very little damage in Paris and latterly have made no attempts to sneak down on the city. It is too risky. They have succeeded in killing some peaceable folk near the Gare du Nord, in dropping one bomb on Notre Dame, I believe,—for which they have less excuse than even for Louvain or Rheims,—and in making a big hole close to the Trocadero. This after all the vaunted terrors of the Zeppelins! What they have done, what they could do at the best is of the nature of petty damage and occasional murder. Instead of terrorizing the Parisians the Zeppelin raids have merely roused a vivid sense of sportsmanship and curiosity among them—at first they had a real reclame!
Day by day as I lived in Paris the city took on more of its ordinary activities and aspects. More people flowed by along the boulevards or sat at the tables in front of the cafes, more shops opened—even the great dressmaking establishments began to operate in an attempt to restore commercial circulation. More transients flitted through the city. There were more people of a Sunday in the Bois and at Vincennes. Considering that less than a year before the national government had left Paris, together with a million of its people, also that the battle-line had remained all these months almost within hearing, it was marvelous how quietly much of the ordinary machinery of life had been set running again. Yet Paris was not the same. It was a Paris almost wholly stripped to the outward eye of that parasitic luxury with which it has catered to the self-indulgent of the world. Paris—as had been the case with Italy—had returned under the stress of its tragedy to its best self—a suffering, tense, deeply earnest self. If the nation conquers—and there is not a Frenchman who believes any other solution possible—victory will be of the highest significance to the race. It will fix in the French people another character wrought in suffering—a deeper, nobler, purer character than her enemies, or her friends for that matter, have believed her to possess. Paris will never again become so totally submerged in the business of providing international frivolities. She has lived too long in the face of death.
The Wounds of France
The wounds of France are still bleeding. The trench wall still lies for four hundred miles across the fair face of the country from the Vosges to the North Sea, and the invader rules some of her richest provinces, in all an area equal to something less than a tenth of the whole.
The wounds have already begun to heal in the marvelous manner of nature: already life has begun again in the valley of the Marne; the vineyards and grainfields run close up to the front trenches. Yet even where the scar has covered the wound it is plain enough to see how deep that wound has been. The scorched and bruised valley of the Marne, the ruined villages of Champagne and Artois, have been described many times by visiting journalists, yet it is worth while to record once more some of the outstanding features of this rape of France.
* * * * *
To begin with Senlis, which is one of the nearest points to Paris reached by the German cyclone in September, 1914. There are fewer older towns in France than Senlis, thirty miles or so northeast of Paris, the center of the old "Island of France." Once a Roman camp whose stout masonry walls can still be seen for considerable distances, it had a mediaeval castle, and, until the greater grandeur of Beauvais stole the honor, was a bishopric with a lovely small Gothic cathedral. Its lofty gray spire dominates the green fields and thick woods in the midst of which Senlis sleeps away the modern day. There are other curious and beautiful examples of Gothic building in Senlis: indeed, just here, the experts find the first workings of the principles of pure Gothic architecture, transforming the round-arched, thick-walled Norman building. If for nothing more Senlis would have amply earned its right to live always as the birthplace of French Gothic.
What happened to Senlis when the German troops visited it can be seen at a glance to-day. From the railroad station at one end of the town to the green fields beyond the hospital on the Chantilly road at the other end, a black swath of burned and ruined buildings is the memento. These houses and stores were not shelled: they were burned methodically. The Germans arrived late in the afternoon of the 2d of September, in that state of nervous excitement and hysterical fear of francs-tirailleurs that characterized them from the time they passed Liege. The Mayor of Senlis, an old man over seventy, was made to understand that he would be held responsible for the conduct of the citizens, and was ordered to have water and lights turned on in the town and a dinner for the German staff prepared at the chief hotel. While he was busy with these commands,—most of the inhabitants had fled that morning,—shots were exchanged in the lower end of the town between the Germans and the retreating French. Thereupon the usual order to burn and destroy was given, and the buildings along the main thoroughfare were set on fire. The mayor and six other citizens, gathered haphazard on the streets, were taken to a field outside the town and shot. There were other moving and significant incidents in the occupation of Senlis which are well authenticated, characteristic of the German method, but need not be repeated here.
The older part of the town, the cathedral, the Roman wall fortunately escaped with only a few chance shell holes here and there. The black scar runs through the place from end to end, incontrovertible instance of the German thing, which has been visited by thousands of French and foreigners the past year. The wounds of Senlis are not deep: by comparison with much else done by the Germans they are almost trivial. The murder of the Mayor of Senlis was not a large crime in the German scale. But the whole is nicely typical: Senlis is the kindergarten lesson in the German method of making war.
* * * * *
As every one knows, the Germans breaking into France at Namur and Mons came on with unexampled rapidity from the north and east toward the south and west, circled somewhat to the west as they neared Paris, and then the 5th of September recoiled under the shock of the French offensive. For the better part of a week two millions of men struggled on a thousand different battlefields from Nancy and Verdun on the east to Coulommiers, Meaux, and Amiens on the south and west. This was the great battle of the Marne, which checked the German invasion. The pressure of this human cyclone, in general from northeast to southwest, was more intense in some places than others. One of the bloodiest storm centers lay east and west from the town of Vitry-le-Francois—from Sermaize-les-Bains on the east to Fere-le-Champenoise, Montmirail, and Esternay on the west. For fifty miles there in the heart of Champagne the path of the cyclone can be traced by the blackened villages, the gutted churches, the countless crosses in the midst of green fields.
One thinks of Champagne as a land of vineyards, but here in the center and south of the fertile province there are few vines, mostly fields of ripening wheat, green alfalfa, or beets—long undulating swales of rich fields, cut by little copses of thick woods and by white poplar-lined highways as everywhere in France. It has peculiarly that smiling and gracious air of la douce France—gently sloping fields and woods and little gray stone villages each with its small church ornamented by the square tower and spire of Champenoise Gothic. And it was here that the blast struck hardest, along the little streams, in the thick copses, up and down the straight roads whose deep ditches lent themselves to entrenchment, and in almost every village and crossroads hamlet.