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The Wrack of the Storm Part 9

"'O my God! My country is lost: France is dead!... What a disaster!... Ah, see, she is saved! She extends to the Rhine! O France, O my beloved country, you are triumphant; you are the queen of nations!... Your genius shines forth over the world.... All the earth wonders at you....'"

These are the words contained in the document written at the Mont-Dore on the 3rd and handed to M. de Vesme on the 13th of June 1914, at a moment when no one was thinking of the terrible war which to-day is ravaging half the world.

When questioned, after the declaration of war, by M. de Vesme on the subject of the prophetic phrase, "I have been waiting for two years for the sequel of the prediction which you are about to read," Dr.

Tardieu replied, on the 12th of August:

"I have been waiting for two years; and I will tell you why. My friend Leon did not name the year, but the more general events are described simultaneously with the events of my own life. Now the events which concern me privately and which were doubtful two years ago became certain in April or May last. My friends know that since May last I have been announcing war as due before September, basing my prediction on coincidences with events in my private life of which I do not speak."

4

These, up to the present, are the only prophecies known to us that deserve any particular attention. The prediction in both is timid and laconic; but, in those regions where the least gleam of light assumes extraordinary importance, it is not to be neglected. I admit, for the rest, that there has so far been no time to carry out a serious enquiry on this point, but I should be greatly surprised if any such enquiry gave positive results and if it did not allowed us to state that the gigantic event, as a whole, as a general event, was neither foreseen nor divined. On the other hand, we shall probably learn, when the enquiry is completed, that hundreds of deaths, accidents, wounds and cases of individual ruin and misfortune, included in the great disaster, were predicted by clairvoyants, by mediums, by dreams and by every other manner of premonition with a definiteness sufficient to eliminate any kind of doubt. I have said elsewhere what I think of individual predictions of this kind, which seem to be no more than the reading of the presentiments which we carry within us, presentiments which themselves, in the majority of cases, are but the perception, by the as yet imperfectly known senses of our subconsciousness, of events, in course of formation or in process of realization, which escape the attention of our understanding. However, it would still remain to be explained how a wholly accidental death or wound could be perceived by these subliminal senses as an event in course of formation. In any case, it would once more be confirmed, after this great test, that the knowledge of the future, so soon as it ceases to refer to a strictly personal fact and one, moreover, not at all remote, is always illusory, or rather impossible.

Apart then from these strictly personal cases, which for the moment we will agree to set aside, it appears more than ever certain that there is no communication between ourselves and the vast store of events which have not yet occurred and which nevertheless seem already to exist at some place where they await the hour to advance upon us, or rather the moment when we shall pass before them. As for the exceptional and precarious infiltrations which belong not merely to the present that is still unknown, veiled or disguised, but really to the future, apart from the two which we have just examined, which are inconclusive, I for my part know of but four or five that appear to be rigorously verified; and these I have discussed in the essay already mentioned. For that matter, they have no bearing upon the present war.

They are, when all is said, so exceptional that they do not prove much; at the most, they seem to confirm the idea that a store exists filled with future events as real, as distinct and as immutable as those of the past; and they allow us to hope that there are paths leading thither which as yet we do not know, but which it will not be for ever impossible to discover.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 9: August, September and October, 1915.]

THE WILL OF EARTH

XX

THE WILL OF EARTH

1

To-day's conflict is but a revival of that which has not ceased to drench the west of Europe in blood since the historical birth of the continent. The two chief episodes in the conflict, as we all know, are the invasion of Roman Gaul, including the north of Italy, by the Franks and the successive conquests of England by the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans. Without delaying to consider questions of race, which are complex, uncertain and always open to discussion, we may, regarding the matter from another aspect, perceive in the persistency and the bitterness of this conflict the clash of two wills, of which one or the other succumbs for a moment, only to rise up again with increased energy and obstinacy. On the one hand is the will of earth or nature, which, in the human species as in all others, openly favours brute or physical force; and on the other hand is the will of humanity, or at least of a portion of humanity, which seeks to establish the empire of other more subtle and less animal forces. It is incontestable that hitherto the former has always won the day. But it is equally incontestable that its victory has always been only apparent and of brief duration. It has regularly suffered defeat in its very triumph.

Gaul, invaded and overrun, presently absorbs her victor, even as England little by little transforms her conquerors. On the morrow of victory, the instruments of the will of earth turn upon her and arm the hand of the vanquished. It is probable that the same phenomenon would recur once more to-day, were events to follow the course prescribed by destiny. Germany, after crushing and enslaving the greater part of Europe, after driving her back and burdening her with innumerable woes, would end by turning against the will which she represents; and that will, which until to-day had always found in this race a docile tool and its favourite accomplices, would be forced to seek these elsewhere, a task less easy than of old.

2

But now, to the amazement of all those who will one day consider them in cold blood, events are suddenly ascending the irresistible current and, for the first time since we have been in a position to observe it, the adverse will is encountering an unexpected and insurmountable resistance. If this resistance, as we can now no longer doubt, maintains itself victoriously to the end, there will never perhaps have been such a sudden change in the history of mankind; for man will have gained, over the will of earth or nature or fatality, a triumph infinitely more significant, more heavily fraught with consequences and perhaps more decisive than all those which, in other provinces, appear to have crowned his efforts more brilliantly.

Let us not then be surprised that this resistance should be stupendous, or that it should be prolonged beyond anything that our experience of wars has taught us to expect. It was our prompt and easy defeat that was written in the annals of destiny. We had against us all the force accumulated since the birth of Europe. We have to set history revolving in the reverse direction. We are on the point of succeeding; and, if it be true that intelligent beings watch us from the vantage-point of other worlds, they will assuredly witness the most curious spectacle that our planet has offered them since they discovered it amid the dust of stars that glitters in space around it. They must be telling themselves in amazement that the ancient and fundamental laws of earth are suddenly being transgressed.

3

Suddenly? That is going too far. This transgression of a lower law, which was no longer of the stature of mankind, had been preparing for a very long time; but it was within an ace of being hideously punished. It succeeded only by the aid of a part of those who formerly swelled the great wave which they are to-day resisting by our side, as though something in the history of the world or the plans of destiny had altered, or rather as though we ourselves had at last succeeded in altering that something and in modifying laws to which until this day we were wholly subject.

But it must not be thought that the conflict will end with the victory. The deep-seated forces of earth will not be at once disarmed; for a long time to come the invisible war will be waged under the reign of peace. If we are not careful, victory may even be more disastrous to us than defeat. For defeat, indeed, like previous defeats, would have been merely a victory postponed. It would have absorbed, exhausted, dispersed the enemy, by scattering him about the world, whereas our victory will bring upon us a twofold peril. It will leave the enemy in a state of savage isolation in which, thrown back upon himself, cramped, purified by misfortune and poverty, he will secretly reinforce his formidable virtues, while we, for our part, no longer held in check by his unbearable but salutary menace, will give rein to failings and vices which sooner or later will place us at his mercy. Before thinking of peace, then, we must make sure of the future and render it powerless to injure us. We cannot take too many precautions, for we are setting ourselves against the manifest desire of the power that bears us.

This is why our efforts are difficult and worthy of praise. We are setting ourselves--we cannot too often repeat it--against the will of earth. Our enemies are urged forward by a force that drives us back.

They are marching with nature, whereas we are striving against the great current that sweeps the globe. The earth has an idea, which is no longer ours. She remains convinced that man is an animal in all things like other animals. She has not yet observed that he is withdrawing himself from the herd. She does not yet know that he has climbed her highest mountain-peaks. She has not yet heard tell of justice, pity, loyalty and honour; she does not realize what they are, or confounds them with weakness, clumsiness, fear and stupidity. She has stopped short at the original certitudes which were indispensable to the beginnings of life. She is lagging behind us; and the interval that divides us is rapidly increasing. She thinks less quickly; she has not yet had time to understand us. Moreover, she does not reckon as we do; and for her the centuries are less than our years. She is slow because she is almost eternal, while we are prompt because we have not many hours before us. It may be that one day her thought will overtake ours; in the meantime, we have to vindicate our advance and to prove to ourselves, as we are beginning to do, that it is lawful to be in the right as against her, that our advance is not fatal and that it is possible to maintain it.

4

For it is becoming difficult to argue that earth or nature is always right and that those who do not blindly follow earth's impulse are necessarily doomed to perish. We have learnt to observe her more attentively and we have won the right to judge her. We have discovered that, far from being infallible, she is continually making mistakes.

She gropes and hesitates. She does not know precisely what she wants.

She begins by making stupendous blunders. She first peoples the world with uncouth and incoherent monsters, not one of which is capable of living; these all disappear. Gradually she acquires, at the cost of the life which she creates, an experience that is the cruel fruit of the immeasurable suffering which she unfeelingly inflicts. At last she grows wiser, curbs and amends herself, corrects herself, returns upon her footsteps, repairs her errors, expending her best energies and her highest intelligence upon the correction. It is incontestable that she is improving her methods, that she is more skillful, more prudent, less extravagant than at the outset. And yet the fact remains that, in every department of life, in every organism, down to our own bodies, there is a survival of bad workmanship, of twofold functions, of oversights, changes of intention, absurdities, useless complications and meaningless waste. We therefore have no reason to believe that our enemies are in the right because earth is with them. Earth does not possess the truth any more than we do. She seeks it, even as we do, and discovers it no more readily. She seems to know no more than we whither she is going nor whither she is being led by that which leads all things. We must not listen to her without enquiry; and we need not distress ourselves or despair because we are not of her opinion. We are not dealing with an infallible and unchangeable wisdom, to oppose which in our thoughts would be madness. We are actually proving to her that it is she who is in the wrong; that man's reason for existence is loftier than that which she provisionally assigned to him; that he is already outstripping all that she foresaw; and that she does wrong to delay his advance. She is, for that matter, full of goodwill, is able on occasion to recognize her mistakes and to obviate their disastrous results and by no means takes refuge in majestic and inflexible self-conceit. If we are able to persevere, we shall be able to convince her. This will take much time, for, I repeat, she is slow, though in no wise obstinate. It will take much time because a very long future is in question, a very great change and the most important victory that man has ever hoped to win.

FOR POLAND

XXI

FOR POLAND

1

The Allies have entered into a solemn compact that none of them will conclude a separate peace. They undertook recently, by an equally irrevocable convention, that they would not lay down their arms until Belgium was delivered. These two acts, one of prudence, the other of elementary justice, appear at first sight superfluous. Yet they were necessary. It is well that nations, even more than men, because their conscience is less stable, should secure themselves against the mistakes and weakness and ingratitude which too often accompany strife and which even more often follow victory. To-morrow they will do for Servia what they have done in the case of Belgium; but there is a third victim, of whom too little is said, who has the same rights as the other two; and to forget her would forever attaint the honour and the justice of those who took up arms only in the name of justice and honour.

2

I need not recall the fate of Poland. It is in certain respects more tragic and more pitiful than that of Belgium or of Servia. She had not even the opportunity to choose between dishonour and annihilation.

Three successive acts of injustice, which were, until to-day, the most shameful recorded by history, deprived her of the glory of that heroic choice which she would have made in the same spirit, for she had already thrice made it in the past, a choice which this day sustains and consoles her two martyred sisters in their profoundest tribulations. It would be too unjust if an ancient injustice, which even yet weighs upon the memory and the conscience of Europe, should become the sole reason of yet a last iniquity, which this time would be inexpiable.

3

True, the Grand-duke Nicolas made noble and generous promises to Poland; and these promises were repeated at the opening of the Duma.

This is good and shows the irresistible force of the awakening conscience of a great empire; but it is not enough. Such promises involve only those who make them; they do not bind a nation. We will not insult Russia by doubting her intentions; but among all the certainties which history teaches us there is one that has been acquired once and for all; and this is that in politics and international morality intentions count for nothing and that a promise, made by no matter what nations, will be kept only if those who make it also render it impossible for themselves to do otherwise than keep it. For the rest, the question at present is not one of intentions, nor confidence, nor pity, nor even of interest. Others have spoken and will speak again, better than I could, of Poland's terrible distress and of the danger, which is far more formidable and far more imminent than is generally believed, of those German intrigues which are seeking to seduce from us and, despite themselves, to turn against us twenty millions of desperate people and nearly a million soldiers, who will die, perhaps, rather than join our enemies, but who, in any case, cannot fight in our ranks as they would have done had the word for which they are waiting in their anguish been spoken before it was too late.

4

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