Home > Uncategorized > Joris-Karl Huysmans: An Apocalypse of wars

Joris-Karl Huysmans: An Apocalypse of wars

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

French writers on war and peace

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Joris-Karl Huysmans
From St. Lydwine of Schiedam
Translated by Agnes Hastings

It is none the less true that the miserable faithful who lived during all the horror of those unspeakable years, believed that all righteousness was crumbling away; and indeed battlefields surrounded them whichever way they turned.

In the South, in the Christian Orient, the Greeks, the Mongols, and the Turks were exterminating each other; in the North, Russians and Tartars, Swedes and Danes, were springing at each other’s throats; and if looking further afield, across the ravaged territories of Europe, their gaze travelled as far as the line of her frontiers, the faithful seemed to see the end of the world drawing near and the menaces of the Apocalypse about to be realized.

The boundaries of the Christian world are marked out in fire upon a lurid sky; villages on the borders of the heathen countries are in flames, and the zone of the demons is lighted up. Attila is alive again, and the invasion of the barbarians renewed. Like a whirlwind the janissaries of Bajazet, the Amir of the Ottomans, pass along, sweeping the countryside like a cyclone and laying waste the towns. He throws himself on Nicopolis, against the allied Catholic forces, and annihilates them; the chair of St. Peter is in peril, and all seems to be over for the Christians of the East, when another victor, the Mongol Tamarlane, celebrated for the pyramid of 90,000 skulls which he erected on the ruins of Babylon, arrives with lightning rapidity from the steppes of Asia, falls upon Bajazet, and carries him off after having defeated his hordes in a sanguinary battle.

Europe, aghast, looked on at the meeting of two waterspouts, whose breaking inundated the onlookers as in a rain of blood.

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The proverb, ‘happiness leads to egoism,’ is only too true; you do not begin to experience compassion for others till you have been yourself in want; well-being and strength sterilize you, and you only perform acts which are vaguely correct, till you are lamed or reduced to poverty.”

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Besides, if GOD always loaded the good with rewards and the evil with ills, there would no longer be either merit or profit in faith, for, from the moment Providence became visible, virtue would become nothing but an affair of commerce, and the conversion which resulted in it, nothing but a servile fear. This would be the very negation of virtue, since it would make it neither generous, nor disinterested, nor gratuitous, but a sort of whitened cowardice, a chapel of ease for vice.

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“Help me to love you! You are miserable when you do not feel love already flowing in you, but indeed, to weep because you do not love is to love already!”

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To other visitors who’ were not touched in their bodies or in their means of subsistence, but came to her, mad with grief, because they had seen the death of a husband, child, or other being whom they had adored; to those men who, after the obsequies of their wives, confessed to her their temptation to throw themselves into the Meuse, she would, after some consoling words, put this question:

“Will you affirm that she for whom you weep is with the elect in Paradise? Your answer is ‘No,’ is it not?

“For, without denying her virtues, you must believe that, according to the ordinary rule, she has to pass through a probationary state of waiting, that she must sojourn for a space, the duration of which is known to God alone, in Purgatory.

“Do you not understand that your prayers and your grief can draw souls from thence? What they have not had the chance to suffer themselves, so as to purge themselves here below, you will suffer in their stead; you will substitute yourself for them and finish what they could not end. You will pay your grief in ransom, and the more sharp your pain, the sooner will the debt of her you loved be paid.

“Who knows, indeed, if the Lord, touched by the goodwill and supplications of a husband, will not give credit to the wife on the capital of his mourning and yield her deliverance at once?

“You will then be paid in return for your pain; your wife will make herself the accomplice of time: she will soothe the acuteness of your wounds; she will deaden the regret of her loss, and will only leave you a gentle memory, distant and sweet. Do not talk then of suicide, for, besides the loss of your soul, it would be the negation, entire and absolute, of your love; it would be abandoning her whom you pretend to love at the moment when she finds herself in peril, plunging her back into the abyss of Purgatory, when she had already mounted to the top; and depriving yourself of the hope of ever seeing her again.”

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