To the French Soldiers at the Front

By Anatole France

[The New York Times/Current History, September 1915]

The subjoined article by M. Anatole France celebrating the festival of the 14th of July appeared originally in the Petit Parisien, and is translated by Winifred Stevens, editor of "The Book of France."

Dear soldiers, heroic children of the Fatherland, today is your festival, for it is the festival of France. The 14th of July breaks in a dawn of blood and glory. "We celebrate and we honor your brethren fallen in immortal battles, and you, to whom we send our good wishes, with this heartfelt cry: Live! Triumph!

One hundred and twenty-six years ago today the people of Paris, armed with pikes and guns, to the beating of drums and the ringing of the tocsin, pressed in a long line down the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, attacked the Bastille, and, after five hours' conflict beneath deadly fire, took possession of the hated fortress. A symbolical victory won over tyranny and despotism, a victory by which the French people inaugurated a new regime.

The sovereignty of law! Therein lies the significance of the Bastille taken by the people and razed to its foundations. The coming of justice! For that reason patriots wearing the tricolor cockade in their hats, and citizenesses in frocks striped with the nation's colors, danced all night long to the accompaniment of violins, in the gay brilliance of the illuminations, on the leveled site of the Bastille.

Hour of confidence in human goodness, of faith in a future of concord and of peace! Then did France reveal her true place among men; then did she show with what hopes the 'Revolution swelled the hearts of Europe. The fall of the Bastille resounded throughout the whole world.

To Russia the good tidings came like the bright flame of a bonfire on some day of public rejoicing. In the proud city of Peter and of Catherine nobles and serfs, with tears and cries of gladness, embraced one another on the public squares. The French Ambassador at the Court of the Empress bears witness to this rapture. "It is impossible," he writes, "to describe the enthusiasm excited among tradesmen, merchants, citizens, and the young men of the upper classes by this fall of a State prison, and this first triumph of tempestuous liberty —French, Russians, Danes, Germans, Dutchmen were all congratulating and embracing one another in the streets as if they had been liberated from some onerous bondage."

In England workingmen, the middle classes, and the generous minded among the aristocracy all rejoiced over the victory of right won by the people of Paris. Neither did their enthusiasm flag, despite all the efforts of a Government strenuously hostile to the new principles of France. In 1790, the anniversary of the taking of the Bastille was celebrated in London by an immense banquet, presided over by Lord Stanhope, one of the wisest statesmen of the United Kingdom.

These are the memories we recall and the events we celebrate today.

Dear soldiers, dear fellow-citizens, I address you on this grave festival because I love you and honor you and think of you unceasingly.

I am entitled to speak to you heart to heart because I have a right to speak for France, being one of those who have ever sought, in freedom of judgment and uprightness of conscience, the best means of making their country strong. I am entitled to speak for you because, not having desired war, but being compelled to suffer it, I, like you, like all Frenchmen, am resolved to wage it till the end, until justice shall have conquered iniquity, civilization barbarism, and the nations are delivered from the monstrous menace of an oppressive militarism. I have a right to speak to you because I am one of the few who have never deceived you, and who have never believed that you needed lies for the maintenance of your courage; one of the few who, rejecting as unworthy of you deceptive fictions and misleading silence, have told you the truth.

I told you in December last year: "This war will be cruel and long," I tell you now: "You have done much, but all is not over. The end of your labors approaches, but is not yet. You are fighting against an enemy fortified by long preparation and immense material. Your foe is unscrupulous. He has learned from his leaders that inhumanity is the soldier's first virtue. Arming himself in a manner undreamed of hitherto by the most formidable of conquerors, he causes rivers of blood to flow and breathes forth vapors charged with torpor and with death. Endure, persevere, dare. Remain what you are and none shall prevail against you.

You are fighting for your native land, that laughing, fertile land, the most beautiful in the world; for your fields and your meadows. For the august mother, who, crowned with vine leaves and with ears of corn, waits to welcome you and to feed you with all the inexhaustible treasures of her breast. You are fighting for your village belfry, your roofs of slate or tile, with wreaths of smoke curling up into the serene sky. For your fathers' graves, your children's cradles.

You are fighting for our august cities, on the banks of whose rivers rise the monuments of generations—romanesque churches, cathedrals, minsters, abbeys, palaces, triumphal arches, columns of bronze, theatres, museums, town halls, hospitals, statues of sages and of heroes—whose walls, whether modest or magnificent, shelter alike commerce, industry, science, and the arts, all that constitutes the beauty of life.

You are fighting for our moral heritage, our manners, our uses, our laws, our customs, our beliefs, our traditions. For the works of our sculptors, our architects, our painters, our engravers, our goldsmiths, our enamelers, our glass cutters, our weavers. For the songs of our musicians. For our mother tongue which, with ineffable sweetness, for eight centuries has flowed from the lips of our poets, our orators, our historians, our philosophers. For the knowledge of man and of nature. For that encyclopedic learning which attained among us the high-water mark of precision and lucidity. You are fighting for the genius of France, which enlightened the world and gave freedom to the nations. By this noble sprit bastilles are overthrown. And, lastly, you are fighting for the homes of Belgians, English, Russians, Italians, Serbians, not for France merely, but for Europe, ceaselessly disturbed and furiously threatened by Germany's devouring ambition.

The Fatherland! Liberty! Beloved children of France, these are the sacred treasures committed to your keeping; for their sakes you endure without complaint prolonged fatigue and constant danger; for their sakes you will conquer.

And you, women, children, old men, strew with flowers and foliage all the roads of France; our soldiers will return triumphant.

ANATOLE FRANCE

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013



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