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Jules Michelet: My book is a book of peace

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

French writers on war and peace

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Jules Michelet
From The Bird
Translated by A.E.

For myself, I had long hailed, with all my heart, the great French Revolution which had occurred in the Natural Sciences – the era of Lamarck and of Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, so fertile in method, the mighty restorers of all science. With what happiness I traced their features in their legitimate sons – those ingenious children who have inherited their intellect!

At their head let me name the amiable and original author of the “Monde des Oiseaux,” whom the world has long recognized as one of the most solid, if not also the most amusing, of naturalists. I shall refer to him more than once; but I hasten, on the threshold of my book, to pay this preliminary homage to a truly great observer, who, in all that concerns his own observations, is as weighty, as special, as Wilson or Audubon.

He has wronged himself by saying that, in his noble work, “he has only sought a pretext for a discourse on man.” On the contrary, numerous pages demonstrate that, apart from all analogy, he has loved and studied the Bird for its own sake. And it is for this reason that he has surrounded it with so many legends, with such vivid and profound personifications. Each bird which Toussenel treats of is now, and will for ever remain, a person.

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Another difference between this book and that of Toussenel’s is, that, harmonious as he is, and a disciple of the gentle Fourier, he is not the less a sportsman. In every page the military calling of the Lorraine is clearly visible.

My book, on the contrary, is a book of peace, written specifically in hatred of sport.

Hunt the eagle and the lion, if you will; but do not hunt the weak.

The devout faith which we cherish at heart, and which we teach in these pages, is, that man will peaceably subdue the whole earth, when he shall gradually perceive that every adopted animal, accustomed to a domesticated life, or at least to that degree of friendship or neighbourliness of which its nature is capable, will be a hundred times more useful to him than if he had simply cut its throat.

Man will not be truly man – we return to this topic at the close of our volume – until he shall labour seriously to accomplish the mission which the earth expects of him:

The pacification and harmonious communion of all living nature.

“A woman’s dreams!” you exclaim. What matters that?

Since a woman’s heart breathes in this book, I see no reason to reject the reproach. We accept it as an eulogy. Patience and gentleness, tenderness and pity, and maternal warmth – these are the things which beget, preserve, develop a living creation.

May this, in due time, become not a book, but a reality! Then, haply, it shall prove suggestive, and others derive from it their inspiration.

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