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A Marvellous Landscape Of Grey Autumn

From a letter of Eugène Lemercier, the French painter who fought and died in World War I.

October 30, 1914

I write to you in a marvellous landscape of grey autumn lashed by the wind. But for me the wind has always been without sadness, because it brings to me the spirit of the country beyond the hill. . . .

The horrible war does not succeed in tearing us from our intellectual habitation. In spite of moments of overwhelming noise, one more or less recovers oneself. The ordinary course of our present existence gives us a sensibility like that of a raw wound, aware of the least breath. Perhaps after this spoliation of our moral skin a new surface will be formed, and those who return will be for the time brutally insensitive. Never mind: this condition of crisis for the soul cannot remain without profit.

Yesterday we were in a pretty Meuse village, all the more charming in contrast with the surrounding ruins.

I was able to have a shirt washed, and while it dried I talked to the excellent woman who braves death every day to maintain her hearth. She has three sons, all three soldiers, and the news she has of them is already old. One of them passed within a few kilometres of her: his mother knew it and was not able to see him. Another of these Frenchwomen keeps the house of her son-in-law who has six children. . . .

For you, duty lies in acceptance of all and, at the same time, in the most perfect confidence in eternal justice.

Do not dwell upon the personality of those who pass away and of those who are left; such things are weighed only with the scales of men. We must gauge in ourselves the enormous value of what is better and greater than humanity.

Dear mother, absolute confidence. In what? We both already know.

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