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

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


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

French writers on war and peace

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

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


Edmond de Goncourt
Translated by George J. Becker


This day makes me think that from the point of view of human history it is very interesting, very amusing, for one who is sceptical about progress to observe that in this year of 1871, in spite of so many years of civilization, so much preaching about the brotherhood of man, and so many treaties to establish a balance of power in Europe, brute force can still assert itself and prevail with as little hindrance as in the time of Attila.


Last night behind my curtains I wondered if there were a hurricane. I got up and opened my window. The hurricane was the unceasing and continuous whine of shells passing over my house.


I am worn and weary: I eat so badly and I sleep so little. The closest thing to an ordinary night since the bombardment began would be a night spent on board ship during a naval battle.


Constantly above our heads the fine noise of grape shot, at once resonant and flat, and at the same time in the sunny blue sky the bursting out, the formation, the slow enlargement of clouds like those fairy-tale clouds from which a genie or a fairy dressed in gilt paper emerges; only today they are spitting out pieces of lead.

Horror is mingled with this: a corpse being hoisted up into a baggage wagon, while one man uses his two hands to hold back the brains which are ready to spill out of the opened skull.



In the Bois de Boulogne, where there never used to be anything but silk among the green trees, I see a large expanse of blue blouse: a shepherd’s back near a little column of bluish smoke; and around him sheep grazing, in default of grass, on the leaves of forgotten branches. In the carriage paths great haggard, confused steers wander along in drove.

Sheep everywhere. Here on the edge of a footpath, lying on his side, is a dead ram; his head with turned-back horns is flattened out and from it drips a bit of reddish fluid, which spreads in a reddish stain on the sand – poor head which every passing ewe sniffs, as in a kiss.


There a band of men, women, and children are breaking up the poor trees which, after they have passed, are left with white scars, branches hanging to the ground, and heaps of twisted wood – a revolting act of pillage which reveals the Parisian population’s love of destruction. An old man from the country passing by, who loves trees as he does all things old, raises his eyes to heaven in a sorrowing way.

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