Home > Uncategorized > Edmond de Goncourt: Even more horrible than the wounds of battle

Edmond de Goncourt: Even more horrible than the wounds of battle

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

French writers on war and peace

Edmond de Goncourt: Despite civilization, brute force asserts itself as in the time of Attila

Edmond de Goncourt: Scenes of siege amid the horrors of war

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Edmond de Goncourt
Journal
Translated by George J. Becker

1870

Bit by bit we begin to feel the ugly side of the war. In the main street of Auteuil, preceded by a soldier leading a horse by its bridle, two infantrymen with grey faces go by on a packsaddle. Their poor backs flinch at each bump and it is an effort for their feet to span the stirrups. That hurts. Wounded men you expect from war. But people killed by cold, rain, lack of food, that is even more horrible than the wounds of battle.

At the entrance to the cemetery there is one child’s coffin after another. This makes the women say: “Still another little one!” It would appear that the siege is slaughtering the innocents.

We live under a permanent call to arms.

I go for a walk in the Bois de Boulogne, where autumnal sadness is today mingled with the sadness of war. Rain, which in its hurried fall hides and effaces the lines of the hills in the distance; a dull sky, where from time to time a cannon shot fired from a fort makes a little white cloud appear; a wailing wind, in which you hear the repercussions of rifle shots on the right side of the Seine. I have still in memory and before my eyes the paleness and exhaustion of numerous sick soldiers whom I have just seen going back on packsaddles.

At street corners you see horrible sights: ambulances from which they take our men whose heads are covered with bloody towels.

It is Christmas. I hear a soldier say: “By way of celebration we had five men frozen in our tent.”

I am strolling through this commotion, this animation, this gaiety of French soldiers ready to go off to their deaths when the cracked voice of a little old fellow, who is bandylegged and Hoffmanesque, shouts: “Pens, pencils, writing paper!” A shout sustained on a strange note, which you might say is a memento mori, a kind of discreetly phrased warning, as much as to say: “If you military gentlemen were to think a bit about making your wills?”

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