Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Two Impressions
By Paul Desjardins (1859–1940)
From ‘Notes Contemporaines’

TWO impressions have remained with me. They date from a month’s wandering in Switzerland, at a time when there are no tourists to be met. The first is of the exquisite scenes of wintry Nature, as she shows herself at this season, when none come to visit her—still, reposeful, silent, veiled—how much more touching and impressive than when profaned by the summer crowd! This is the moment when the Jura should be seen! The pine woods on the hills are but faintly powdered with snow, and the patches of dry rusty vegetation beneath lie on the gray stones like the broad red stains of blood. Seeds hang here and there on the bare branches, mixed with the tendrils of the wild vine, or with ghostly clusters of what were the flowers of the clematis. The falling leaves are golden; those already fallen are of an ashen gray. The delicate tracery overhead is of infinite complexity, exquisite in its endless detail; and the whole of this disrobed Nature, in its unadorned simplicity, has an impress of sincerity that reminds you of the drawings of Holbein. Flat pools of shallow water lie about, carpeted with mosses and mirroring the sky; the smoke of the huts rises upward gaunt and straight. No one is near; there are no passers-by; and there is no sound, except that of a waterfall, fuller in its rush than at any other season. Silence—a silence so fragile that the step of a single wayfarer on the road would be enough to break it—reigns undisturbed, and covers everything like a winding-sheet.  1
  My second impression is of another kind, though almost as comforting, at least by the contrast; it was given me by the conversation of the peasant folk, plain humble mountaineers. The speech and thought of these men is plain and direct, devoid of artifice, clear and fathomable; they furnish you an unvarnished tale of their own simple experience—the life experience of a man, no more! They neither invent nor disguise, and are totally incapable of presenting either fact or circumstances in a way that shall suggest to the hearer another or a different sense. Our woeful habit of ridiculing what lies indeed at the bottom of our hearts they have never learned; they copy, line by line and stroke by stroke, the meaning that is in them, the intentions of their inner mind. In our Parisian haunts, it seems to me that their success would be a problem; but they are heedless of “success”; and to us, when we escape from our vitiated centres, from an atmosphere poisoned by that perpetual straining after effect, the pure undressed simplicity of these “primitives” is as refreshing as to our over-excited and exhausted nerves are the green, quiet, hidden nooks of their Alpine solitudes. With them there is no need of imaginative expression; the trouble of thought is useless; their words are the transparent revelation of their beliefs. The calm brought to the hyper-civilized spirit by this plainness and directness of Nature is absolutely indescribable; and when I came to reflect on the profoundness of mental quietude—I might say of consolation—that I had attained to during my wanderings, I could not help recognizing what a cruel, fatal part is played in the lives of all of us by irony. It is, with Frenchmen, a kind of veneer, worn even by the most unpretentious in place of whatever may be real in them; and where this outward seeming is absent, they are completely at a loss.  2
  Well-bred Frenchmen rarely if ever have or pronounce an opinion, or pass a judgment—unless with a playful obliquity of judgment, and on things in general. They assume an air of knowing what they are talking about, and of having probed the vanity of all human effort before they have ever attempted or approached it; and even this indifference, this disdain, this apparent dislike to the responsibility of so much as an opinion,—even this is not natural, not innate; its formula is not of its own creation; it is but the repetition of what was originated by some one else. The truth is, that in our atmosphere all affirmative action is difficult; it is hard either to be or to do. This habit of irony has destroyed all healthful activity here. It is a mere instrument of evil; if you grasp it, it turns to mischief in your hands, and either slips from and eludes them, or wounds you, as often as not, mortally.  3

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.