Souvenirs of France


Rudyard Kipling

J’étais géant alors, et haut de cent coudées.—BONAPARTE.

IN the spring of the Paris Exhibition of 1878 my father was in charge of the Indian Section of Arts and Manufactures there, and it was his duty to arrange them as they arrived. He promised me, then twelve or thirteen years old, that I should accompany him to Paris on condition that I gave no trouble. The democracy of an English School had made that easy.

Our happy expedition crossed the Channel in a steamer, I think, made of two steamers attached to each other side by side. (Was it the old Calais-Douvres designed to prevent sea-sickness which even the gods themselves cannot do?) And, late at night, we came to a boarding-house full of English people at the back of the Parc Monceau. In the morning, when I had waked to the divine smell of roasting coffee and the bell-like call of the marchand-d’habits, my father said in effect, “I shall be busy every day for some time. Here is ——” I think it was two francs. “There are lots of restaurants, all called Duval, where you can eat. I will get you a free pass for the Exhibition and you can go where you please.” Then he was swallowed by black-coated officials and workmen in blouses.

Imagine the delight of a child let loose among all the wonders of all the world as they emerged from packing-cases, free to enter every unfinished building that was being raised round an edifice called the Trocadero, and to pass at all times through gates in wooden barricades behind which workmen put up kiosques and pavilions, or set out plants and trees! At first, these genial deep-voiced men asked questions, but after a few days no one looked at my pass, and I considered myself an accepted fly on this great wheel of colour and smells and sights, all revolving to a ceaseless mitraille of hammers and machinery. My father, too, had been entirely correct as to this Monsieur Duval. His restaurants were everywhere in Paris; his satisfying déjeuners cost exactly one franc. There were also, if one had made the necessary economies, celestial gingerbreads to be bought everywhere.

At the boarding-house were two English boys from a School called Christ’s Hospital, or, in talk, the Blue Coat School, which dates from the time of Edward VI. We fraternised, and soon discovered that the Bois de Boulogne was an ideal ground for paper-chases, which, at that time, were not understood in France.

But the scholars of Christ’s Hospital are obligated to wear the ancient costume of their School. This consists of white linen bands round the neck, in lieu of collar; a long blue cloth bedgown, fastened by many bright flat buttons and loosely girt at the hip with a leather girdle; blue knee breeches; vividly yellow stockings, and square-toed shoes with buckles. Hats are not worn, and when engaged in athletic exercise the skirts of the blue bedgown are drawn through the girdle. I ask you to consider the effect on a pious gendarmerie of two such apparitions, scattering or pursuing trails of torn paper through their sacred Bois in ’78! My friends were often halted and questioned; but the gendarmes, tolerant so long as you are polite, soon perceived them to be the young of some species of the insane English. “But what”, they demanded unofficially, “is the genesis and intention of this bizarre uniform? Military? Civil? Ecclesiastical?”

My brutal experiments in French among my workmen at my Trocadero made me interpreter here. I have often wondered what the gendarmes and the interested priests must have thought. With the ribaldly inquisitive cabmen of those days (they talked too much, those gentlemen in leather hats) one was less polite; for a selection of simple phrases drawn, again, from my blue-bloused friends at the Trocadero, would act on them marvellously. You see, they dared not abandon their vehicles, and the radius of a whiplash is limited. But conceive this against to-day’s background! Three small savages capering on, let us say, the trottoir of the Avenue d’Iéna while they harpoon a red and roaring cocher with epithets of Zoological origin or the ripostes of Cambronne! . . . Primitive? Possibly—but Love is founded on a variety of experiences.

When these delights palled, and I had sufficiently superintended my Exposition for the day, I would explore my Paris. Thus I came to know the Bridges and the men who clipped the poodles on the little quays below them. I perceived from the pantomime of the artists engaged that there were two schools of thought in this art. One began at the head; the other at the tail. When I told this to my father, who was also an artist, he laughed enormously. And I accepted it as a tribute to my powers of narration

I discovered on my own account Quasimodo’s Notre Dame. (I believed profoundly in the phantasmagoria of Notre Dame, including Esmeralda and her Djali (translated).) I even came to know a little of the Left Bank and the book-boxes of the Quai Voltaire then filled with savage prints and lithographs of the War of ’70. The tobacconists, too, sold glazed clay pipes of the heads of bearded soldiers and generals. I considered myself well informed as to that war because, a few years before, I had been given a scrap-book of pictures cut out of the Illustrated London News. One was called “The Burning of Bazeilles”, and another—a terrible perspective of a forlorn army laying down their rifles in a wilderness of snow—represented Bourbaki’s disarmament at the Swiss frontier. The concierge and his wife at the boarding-house also told me tales of that war of which I comprehended—and forgot—nothing.

But my Exposition was always the heart of things for me. A feature of it was the head of Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty which, later, was presented to the United States. One ascended by a staircase (5 c.) to the dome of the skull and looked out through the vacant eye-balls at a bright-coloured world beneath. I climbed up there often, and once an elderly Frenchman said to me, “Now, you young Englisher, you can say you have looked through the eyes of Liberty Herself”. He spoke less than the truth. It was through the eyes of France that I began to see.

What I did not understand—and it was much—I brought home at evening and laid before my father, who either explained it or told me where I could get the information. He treated me always as a comrade, and his severest orders were, at most, suggestions or invitations. “If I were you, I should do so-and-so”—“You might do worse than, etc.” prefaced delightful talks while I was going to bed and he was dressing for some function. It was one of his “suggestions” that led me to look (but not for long) at an Algerian exhibit of educational appliances—copy-books filled with classical French sentences, and simple sums perpetrated by young Algerians for whom I felt sympathy, being under a similar yoke. By some means or other I gathered dimly that France “had sound ideas about her Colonies” and that I “might do worse” than remember that. I forgot, of course—to remember later.

This was eight years after the war of ’70 and six since the last of the £200,000,000 indemnity had been paid. The Boche had done his best to cripple France, but his memory did not include “the night-cap of Père Bugeaud”, nor his prevision anything in the least resembling the Maréchal Lyautey. Madagascar, Tonquin, Indo-China, and the rest were not. The Boche, disregarding the possibilities of a fringe of administration on a beach in North Africa, thought Colonial affairs might divert France. Others must have seen more among the packing-cases where my father talked with the black-coated officials with the rosettes.

I returned to England and my School with a knowledge that there existed a land across the water, where everything was different, and delightful, where one walked among marvels, and all food tasted extremely well. Therefore, I thought well of that place.

Later, I was “invited” to study French. “You’ll never be able to talk it, but if I were you, I’d try to read it” was his word. I append here the method of instruction. Give an English boy the first half of Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea in his native tongue. When he is properly intoxicated, withdraw it and present to him the second half in the original. Afterwards—not before—Dumas the Prince of amuseurs, and the rest as God pleases.

The official study of the French language in the English schools of those days assumed that its literature was “Immoral”; whereas the proper slant of accents and the correct assignment of genders was virtuous. In my own interests, then, I made my “graves” and “acutes” as nearly vertical as might be, while my caligraphy served as a fig-leaf to cover those delicate problems of sex in inanimate objects so dear to the meticulous Gaul. During my holidays I would read all the French books that interested, and should not have interested, me, till at sixteen I could deal with them almost as with English.

This served me well a few years later, when, as a subordinate on an Indian journal, it was part of my duty to translate columns upon columns of the Novoe Vremya detailing Russian campaigns in Central Asia which were then of some interest. At that time I was a young man in my father’s house—a family reunited after long separations in childhood, very content to be together. Never was youth more fortunate! People from all parts of the world would visit my father in his capacity of Provincial Art Director and Curator of the Art Museum. Among these was a French official, or philosopher, named Gustave Le Bon—of the type as it seemed to me of those black-coated ones in Paris six or seven years before. Some of his talk dealt with the significance of those wearisome educational exhibits from Algeria, which I had seen: the theory and the logic of Colonial administration, and so forth, all set out in beautifully balanced French of which the dominant word was “Emprise morale”. He talked also on occasion like a Maxim articulate, and my father almost as swiftly, each explaining and comparing the ends and aims of his government. Thus was a second link of the chain riveted which in due time would assist to draw my heart towards France.

Occasionally Russian officers wandered through our part of Northern India who spoke admirable French and explained disarmingly their innocent missions. And there was an annually recurrent native theatrical troupe that presented Indian plays in the bazaar, whose elderly and unshaven German scene-painter had been, he told me, “out on the barricades in ’48”. He revealed to me a France I have never imagined.

In the Anglo-Indian life of those days were no theatres; no picture-galleries; no cinemas; no transport other than the horse; and no society. Every one was either an official or a soldier, with his work to do. Our community numbered in the hot weather perhaps seventy whites in all. At the big Christmas dances, when the outlying stations came in, four hundred might be present for a week! The climate, through half the year, forbade exercise after seven in the morning and before six in the evening. There was time, then, to read—anything and everything one could find—from Scarron’s dreary Roman Comique to Gyp, as well as that ponderous Novoe Vremya and the French papers. The journals in our office came in from Paris to Pekin; each wonderfully preserving its own national smell, so that one could identify it in the dark. At that time—’83 to ’88—the French Press was not nationally enamoured of England. I answered some of their criticisms by what I then conceived to be parodies of Victor Hugo’s more extravagant prose. The peace of Europe, however, was not seriously endangered by these exercises; my illustrious contemporaries must have known that newspapers have to be filled daily.

Oh! Demain c’est la grande chose!
De quoi demain sera-t-il fait?

After these happy years, I found myself again in Paris at the Exhibition of 1889–90. My city was much as I had left it, except for an edifice called the Eiffel Tower, but it was still ignorant of wireless and automobiles. I used to establish myself at a small hotel in the Batignolles, dominated by a fat elderly landlady who brought me unequalled café au lait in big bowls. I must have made other friendships also—else how did I come to assist at that moonlight pas de quatre in front of the Sorbonne? A glance into the future would have shown me that I was to be a Doctor of that learned Institute, but I needed all my eyes at the time to watch a gendarme who desired to attach himself to our company merely because we sang to him that Love was an infant of Bohemia ignorant of the Code Napoléon.

Those times passed also, and life became more varied. It included a certain amount of travel—to South Africa for example, where at a town called Johannesburg I had the honour of meeting some German officers, unnecessarily interested in the future political relations and armaments, which last their country supplied, of the Boers. They talked too loudly. Personally, I have always liked the Boer, and it occurred to me, as to some others, at the time that he might not be our most serious opponent.

During the Boer War (1899-1902) what should have enlightened us all as to the future was the thoroughness of the anti-British propaganda, much of which rebounded mainly from the United States by way of what was vaguely called “The Continent”. Some of it was of French provenance—grossly impolite and playing into the Boches’ hands. But the specific charges of our “atrocities” during the war revealed, though we had not sense enough to profit by it, the Boche mentality. For example, there was a statement that on a certain day, at a certain place, some English officers entered a Boer farmhouse which was flying the white flag. Names and dates were entirely true. (I was with the party and shared the “honours” of the action.) It went on to say that we had dragged out two or three Boer men and women from under the beds there; had given them a hundred yards’ allowance and shot them down as they ran! In other words, it prefigured absolutely the technique of Louvain and Termonde and the villages of the Border in ’14, etc., etc.; the touch about the “hundred yards’ allowance” being a sporting attempt to dress the dish à l’anglaise. Another announcement—a telegraphic “extra”—picked up on the floor of a newspaper office at Bloemfontein the day after we had entered that town, affirmed that our Brigade of Guards had, two days previously, been driven on to the attack in one of the “battles” of those days, by the fire of their own Corps Artillery! Even so, we were not enlightened; and when later we came across very deep trenches, undercut, on the shrapnel side, no one realised we were looking at the forerunner of the “dug-out” and a new type of war. But how could we guess?

The Boer wisely did not care to sit in trenches as the German experts had recommended. He preferred to lie behind a boulder in the open and shoot his picked man at eight hundred or a thousand yards. When he had expended his cartridges he retired towards the Equator on his indefatigable little pony. The uniformed foreign volunteers of his forces (there was no uniform among the Boers) had been trained in an older school. Consequently they were sometimes captured or even killed in action. Among our “captives” was a charming Frenchman who had fought because he intensely loathed the English. He was master of a pleasant literary style, and in his account, later, of his adventures referred to me (surely Hate is more observant even than love!) by the one title to which I most objected. If he be still alive I would make him my compliments across the years and assure him that his thrust went home.

But I go forward too quickly. The business of Fashoda in ’98 was—after the French Press had been very rude, very stupid, and very short-sighted in beating us to help “the King of Prussia”—the opening of the inevitable entente cordiale. At the time the French Government, I think, purchased a quantity of military stores which were duly expended sixteen years later in quite another direction. And in 1915, in a vast hollow of the Argonne, I beheld an army of forty thousand men and a hundred and twenty Seventy-Fives reviewed by Joffre and Kitchener, and felt the frisson run through its ranks when Kitchener shook hands with and talked to General Marchand in the face of the line. Then the bank of horizon-blue and the clanking guns rolled forward to the unsatisfied thunders beyond the horizon.

After the Boer War, but the precise date has escaped me, there visited Cape Town, where I used to spend my winters, the triplescrew cruiser Dupleix (Admiral Rivet) which was thrown open to all the world for “inspections”. There are two ways of “inspecting” ships. The first is to go round the ship before taking déjeuner on board. The second is to sit quite still after déjeuner on board, and let the ship go round you. Since the lighter guns of the Dupleix were mounted by threes in little cupolas, the impression of her revolving armament was prodigious. Cape Town, in turn, invited all her officers to “inspect” the vineyards of Constantia, where they make not too weak wines. My charge, on that occasion, was a young Breton lieutenant. He returned, his head on his companion’s shoulder, sleeping like an angel. You must understand I had several times drunk to the entente cordiale in sweet champagne at eleven in the morning on the deck of the Dupleix; temperature beneath her awnings about 85° F. Thus honour was satisfied

But in all those years I knew little of France beyond an occasional trip to Paris. The coming of the automobile broke the spell, and, year after year, in the cars of the period when motorists were as much pioneers of travel as are now airmen, we explored France. (“But, Monsieur, we cannot accommodate that here. It will frighten the horses!” That was at the old hotel in Avignon.)

Then was revealed to us, season after season, the immense and amazing beauty of France; the laborious thrift of her people, and a little of their hard philosophy; the excellence of her agriculture and the forethought and system of her forestry. Some of our Indian forestry officials had had their training at Nancy, and had always told me about it.

But at first one paid for one’s knowledge with one’s skin. Neither men nor beasts were prepared for this visitation of ferocious and exacting vehicles; and part of the tourists’ equipment used to be a whip with a long lash, to save the temperamental dogs of France from committing suicide. The soft roads of the astonished departments went to pieces beneath our very bad tyres, and we broke our strongest springs on hump-backed little bridges in secluded towns of one street, where the old women knitted at the fountains. (That was the Rhone Road. Route 7.) Worst of all, we were so ignorant that we did not know that one always finds a good déjeuner if one falls in behind the French Army at half-past eleven.

But matters adjusted themselves with the years and, from the point of view of the early motorists, civilisation now horribly overruns France and one eats, instead of dines, at “hotels of all the luxuries”.

There is a certain little meadow by the sea, under Mount Canigou, which Spring fills with narcissi when she first sets foot in Europe. For years in succession we went down to that meadow, spread our maps among the flowers, and began our travels—all France to play with, and our auto to convey us. From the tourists’ point of view March is not a good season. Winds blow; there may be snow-drifts on the low passes that a month later would be clear. Yet, for those who love the land and its people, March is the month above all; for then France, who never stops working, begins her spring cleanings, loppings, and prunings. The roadmen are out taking stock of winter damages; the happy, dirty gipsy-vans are out too; the barges along a thousand miles of canals refit and repaint under the eye of the barge-dogs, who allow no liberties; the roads are made interesting by the dung-carts, the huge bundles of new vine-stocks, and the freshly ordered bright-painted agricultural implements. The working year renews its pulse with the roar almost of a tide.

One blemish remains. No motorist can foresee what any citizen of the Republic on foot will do. He is generally at work in the fields, but when he walks the roads he is a flickering, wanton mystery.

I have seen him absorbed in dreams, with expanded chest and radiant eye, advance well on the wrong side of the road, till our horn made him leap sideways and call us “Assassin!”

But a people who work as unrelentingly as the French, must have great dreams to salt their lives with. When a man has spent the long day leading pannier loads of manure, a donkey-load at a time, up the terraced hillside to his hanging vineyard; when he has hand-dealt each knotted vine-stock its own portion of the good dark muck, it is then he wants to straighten his back on the way home, and to plunge into the life of events and prodigies—such as lecturing his wife or being President of the Republic.

I tried to explain to a companion of one of our tours that these “play-acting people”, as he called them, have lived through devastating dramas of their own, the consequences of which lie heavy on every aspect of their lives. We had gone astray one evening in a wild plain of heath and rock, darkened by olive trees and lit by the flare of a windy sunset. We came into a village where a line of young men, linking hands, swept the public square dancing. Their faces were very clear in that unearthly light, and the tricolour ribbons in their caps rattled in the mistral. An infantry soldier leaned against a shop door and watched them with an elder brother’s instructed smile.

“What’s this circus?” said my friend as they shouted round us.

“Those are conscripts,” I replied. “Young men drawn for service in the Army for the next three years.” But he was frankly contemptuous, and the lounging infantryman only impressed him as slovenly and ungroomed.

“But there are three-quarters of a million of them,” I said. “They have to take over each other’s clothes and equipment and wear them out—like monks. Very little is wasted in this country.” All the English in him revolted at the apparent meanness, but the splendour of the sacrifice was hid. As a Frenchman once said to me: “We Continentals are more separated from your world by our compulsory service than by anything else. How can you English understand our minds if you do not realise those years of service—those years of service for us all? When we come to talk to you about life it is like talking about death to children.”

Again—at a cosmopolitan dinner-party—an Italian youth, but so English-trained that the young Englishman he was talking to looked on him as a brother, said, all of a sudden, “Yes, it was rather a bore! I had got my House colours and I had got my Boats. I’d have given anything for another year at Eton. But I had to come away for my service. ’Get up at three in the morning and groom your own horse, you know, and all that sort of thing. The pay is a penny a day and the food—you can’t live on it! . . . ”

The Englishman stared—it was having to give up the Boats that impressed him, but a young Frenchman who had done his time merely nodded. I have been privileged also to hear a foreign professor of some ideal or other explain to a rather prominent philosopher that he “guessed France lacked a certain seriousness of moral purpose”. To whom the philosopher, looking back across the years: “Ye-es. I did my service with the Artillery”. Who would more surely extract fun, irony, and their true taste out of things as they pass, than one who had been forced to live under bodily stress in the face of fact, to sweat and pant and cast him down in the mud, dust, and heat of manœuvres—a unit among many thousands?

And as one came to know France more intimately one gathered memories and pictures of people and things which became part of one’s accepted life, destined to grow more significant through the years.

On the way to Lavandou, before Lavandou had been exploited, there stood against a belt of pines, an old black barn whose door carried a torn placard of some Government loan, which resembled a grotesque profile. This was a landmark always joyously greeted because it marked for us a stage of our great journey from Spring’s Own Meadow. That placard survived all the war—always preserving its comic appearance. It outlived all the millions of the dead and the hundreds of murdered villages.

At Rheims, which was on one of our northerly circuits, we used to buy candles to burn before Joan of Arc. “But what do you want with candles?” the sacristan would say. (The God who made all the Creeds knew, but we did not.) And, two years after our last visit together in peace time, there remained only the gutted shell of the Cathedral, but, in a corner of the void, lay a metal candleholder—I tried to believe that very one on which we had spiked our useless offerings.

Whatever the sacristan may think, I believe in the miracle that Joan of Arc wrought for France through the bad years of 1903-7, when the children born or begotten under the shadows of the ’70 war had come to manhood and were (it will happen again in France as it will in England) full of defaitism and that costive ill-will that crawls like a snapping cur on the heels of war. Scientific observers may argue that those years also preluded the entry of young France into the arena of sports. It is incontestable that, more and more at that epoch, were the kiosques filled with little weekly papers of athletic interest; more and more did one meet on the roads young men training severely for walking, running, or cycle contests. But, pari passu, I observed in the churches that Saint Joseph was everywhere being dispossessed from his shrine in favour of Joan of Arc. It is not to the sporting journals but to Joan that I ascribe the renaissance of strength and purpose in the young of France at that hour.

With one exception—and he was a douanier fortified with brandy against the terrible rain of the Nord—I have in twenty-five years’ road-travel met nothing but kindness and prompt help from every one—even from my ancient friends, the gendarmes.

Had I space, or you patience, I could tell you of the Personal Devil of Marsillargues, and of Michel Coste, the village electrician there who saved us from him; of the Boy of Villers Bocage who will unquestionably be the second Lesseps of France; of the veteran of ’70, on the road to Canigou, who kept bees, and who talked and looked precisely like Anatole France; of the rural postman, survivor of a Madagascar battalion of ’83–’86 (“Eighty of us, Monsieur, returned out of eleven hundred”), who delivered the superb lecture on the late Mr. Wilson, at the bridge below Bluebeard’s Castle; and of the Lady of Bordeaux who, dressed almost entirely in one hat, also lectured the two embarrassed gendarmes (Do you know that the Bordelais can blush?) and the unembarrassed cab-driver.

At every turn of my ways I gathered a certain amount of knowledge, and, perhaps, a little understanding.

For example, only a few years ago in the Béarnaise, on a hot day—the car halted opposite the house of a big-boned farmer standing by his splendid reversible plough. Behind him, his silky plough bullocks filed in to their dark stalls for the noontide rest.

“Are Monsieur and Madame interested in beasts? Good. Come and look.”

We were presented to each darling by name. It was a thriving establishment with the usual notice of a Government loan on a barn door. Then, underneath a wall by the main road, we saw an infant of four armed with a little green-barked switch which some one had peeled into pretty patterns for him. His office was to keep a flock of baby turkeys in the shadow of that wall as the sun shifted. “Sun is bad for young turkeys”, the farmer observed. “But he knows! He knows all about it. If you took his stick away he’d cry. Wouldn’t thee?”

The babe did not answer. His eyes were on his flock as it piped and cowered beneath the menace of his sceptre. They knew all about it too.

“Your son?”

“Assuredly.” With an arm over the forequarters of an ox who stood as still as a mantelpiece, the farmer talked of “La Terre” and the obligations of those who served it to enter on their vows early.

It was good stuff—well delivered—and impressive in what it took for granted. I dare not paint the horror of an English Administration and all its paid officials if an infant were discovered to be employed in what is legally “agricultural labour”.

But the strength of France is in her soil. If you stood one hundred Frenchmen on their heads, you would find the good plough-mould on the boots of at least seventy-five. They have known in their boyhood the chill before sunrise, and the cool of the evening on the naked chest; the sight, sound, and smell of the worked earth; the hot, dry, rustling cornland before the reapers go in; and the secrets of the dark and tempting barns. They give to La Terre the reverence they deny to some other gods: and she repays their worship.

There is a Town by a great River, where they hold agricultural shows on the main boulevard, attaching electric-power wires casually to the tree-trunks, with no more protection than an occasional warning that, if you touch them, you will perish. (With us, a pensioned Civil Servant would guard every one.) They sell, under the cool shadows of the trees, fascinating farm appliances from bee-hives to wine-presses. Once I asked an agent how long a certain manure-pump would last—marche being the word I used. The answer was illuminating. “If you leave it lying out in the winters, as you English do, it will not marche more than two years. Give it shelter and it will marche for ten.” That is truth. No one can calculate how much the English farmer loses by sheer neglect of his tools, and by sloth at the careless end of the day or season.

And in this same town is a flower-market, where each morning people attend whose little carts are drawn by dogs. The first business of every dog is to assure himself that all his friends and enemies in the square are present. To each, then, the proper word. That delivered, each dog lies down under his cart in silence till market closes and all go home. I was interested in a largish, square-mouthed, black fellow, whose zeal to arrive was only equalled by his choking anxiety to get away. I would have talked to him, but he told me that he was responsible for the cart, and was devoid of social accomplishments.

Afterwards, I foregathered with an old man who carried baggage from the railway station to quiet boarding-houses. His team was a fawn-coloured lady of seven varieties, fresh from maternal duty, and a composite black-and-white pointer. They were delivering a portmanteau at the time, and with some parade; for the lady who received it was evidently friend of all three. “Yes”, said the old man when she had gone. “These two mix themselves in all my affairs. It gives them importance. As guard-dogs, of course, they are useless. They would not interfere with any one because, you see, any one may come out to take a trunk. In our business we must ingratiate ourselves with our clientèle.” (The bitch fawned and feathered round my knees for proof of it.) “Other dogs are different? That is true! You tried to talk to that black one in the Flower Market? But he was in sole charge of his cart! Monsieur, it may serve you to remember that you should never speak to a single dog on duty. Two perhaps may be polite, but one . . . not so often.”

Then he showed me how his team could pull on demand, going up hill.

“In theory why should a dog work at all?” I demanded.

“It is not a theory. It is logic. Because a dog is an animal of intelligence. He knows right and wrong—especially injustice. He loves a position of trust. It gives him his point of honour—his opportunity for devotion. Like a woman in effect. Now, she here has three little ones at home. She will feed them at déjeuner of course. But if I left her behind afterwards, she would bite him when he came back. Just like a woman again! Logically, also, dogs are too wise to be idle. It is an insult to them.”

It cannot be easy to overthrow a people whose men, women, children, and dogs look on work as a natural part of life. With this virtue goes an acceptation of thrift in all things, which makes most things easy.

Again an illustration. At a big Paris post office a messenger entered to cash a money order and turned away from the wicket leaving one sou lying on the counter. The postal employé who had cashed him the order was serving another customer, and did not notice. But two well-dressed women in the queue instantly warned the messenger of his oversight, in that strict sudden staccato which a Frenchwoman reserves for serious affairs. It was not the amount that mattered but the principle. Call it sou-mindedness if you will. Myself, I respect it.

It makes for simplicity; the acceptance of hard living which fortifies the moral interior as small pebbles assist the digestion of fowls; and it allows its practitioner to be as extravagant as he pleases in speech and oratory. (The Englishman’s inveterate habit of waste explains his inveterate habit of understatement.)

In the course of these years it occurred to me that there existed in France a civilisation at least coeval with ours; equally complete—not to say contented with itself; as incomprehensible as ours but complementary. What of civilisation since the fall of Rome had evolved itself appeared to me to have been due to one or other of those influences; the later systems being predatory, parvenu, or imposed. Therefore, what of civilisation was to continue, lay in our united hands.

This idea precipitated itself out of talks, and experiences trivial or grave, the first part of which I have set down here.

Souvenirs of France - Contents    |     II

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