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Letters of Jack Morris Wright 1/3

Article du 23 mars 2012, publié par PO (modifié le 23 mars 2012 et consulté 1570 fois).





APRIL, 1917-JANUARY, 1918




It is my keenest desire and sense of duty to do a little part for France,

since it hinders nothing in my daily life but only gives me a bit of manhood.



THESE letters from my son, I gathered for publication just as they came, with the full joy and pride I had in receiving them, hoping to give to other boys something of his fine courage and spirit — to other mothers comfort and hope, and to all readers the vivid, beautiful sketches of France, of War, of Idealism as he, "Poet of the Airs," has given me.

Jack Wright, the author of these letters is an American boy of eighteen years, born in New York City. When a small child he was taken to France, where he remained until the outbreak of the war.

He was educated entirely in French schools ; his playmates were the children of the artists and poets of France. French was his language. This will explain his unique literary expression, the curious blend of French and English which, even to the formation of words, I have left entirely as he writes them, feeling therein a special charm.

This will explain also his great love for France, the home of his childhood.

Although but eighteen years old when he left to make the supreme sacrifice as one of the first American Volunteers, he had graduated with special honors from l’École Alsacienne at Paris and Andover in America, and entered Harvard University.

Although only nine months in the war, he had won his commission as First Lieutenant Pilot-Aviator of the American Aviation.

While joyously compiling these letters (having even confided my plan to him) the official telegram came that announced his last flight, January 24, 1918.

But a few days before, these lines of Scott, which he had written on a scrap of paper, fell from one of his books into my hands : —

One glorious hour of crowded life 
Is worth an age without a name."

Sara Greene Wise


THESE letters are taken directly out of the hurried office of Mars ; they are notes on the exact shell-holes your man will crouch in, on the precious stars and mighty heavens he will look up to, on War’s fight, toil, and divinity ; on War’s romance and War’s exile ; on War’s New World and the new life it spreads each passing day, to every human proud to have a soul across the Atlantic firmament in the first grasping streaks of dawn.

They are secret notes that Mars held nearest his heart, that were dictated to me on top of blasting mines of which the undersigned stenographer who received Mar’s dictation takes an enthusiastic interest in revealing their message to you.


TO-DAY the unusual has become the commonplace. No one can remain deaf to duty’s call as it rings its challenge throughout the world. Youth has heard that call and youth has been the first to respond. The superficialities of life have fallen in swift confusion. Luxury and ease no longer allure. The spiritual in human nature has risen supreme and strong above the material that so recently held sway. Youth has caught the vision of the higher values of life and with enthusiasm and unselfish devotion has answered the challenge to protect and establish these values for the youth and manhood of a later day.

Not all have caught this vision with equal clearness. To some it has come sooner than to others. To those who were best fitted to welcome it has been granted the privilege to see it clearest and first. Among these last was Jack Wright, whose pure soul and lofty idealism are so clearly revealed in this collection of his letters.

It was not the love of adventure that prompted this mere boy in years to volunteer for early and active service in the great cause. When the Phillips Academy Ambulance Unit was first suggested in the spring of 1917, Jack Wright was one of the first to ask to go. His intimate knowledge of and love for the French, with whom he had passed much of his early life, had led him to enter into their great struggle and the spirit of their sacrifice to a degree that few of us have as yet fully attained. "I am sure I can help them," he said to me simply as we discussed the project, "and I owe them so much." And as I said my last "good-byes" and waved my last farewells to that group of eager and expectant American youth as the gray French liner backed slowly away from the New York pier, I was conscious that Jack Wright was the real crusader of them all.

Among his schoolmates Jack Wright was not a prominent figure. His interests and tastes, like those of other poet-warriors now dear to us, were not those most commonly in evidence in American school and college life — so often superficial, so readily shaped by passing, common interests and the popular will. He lived a bit above and beyond the commonplace. He breathed a somewhat purer air ; and his poetic nature enabled him to see the higher peaks along life’s highway while his mates were still content to view the immediate hills that rose about their pathway. Yet he was far from prudish : and the red blood coursed freely and unalloyed in his veins. His natural literary talents at once evoked the interest and admiration of his instructors ; and by those few schoolboy friends whose kindred spirits enabled them to measure him at his true worth he was beloved as few boys are privileged to be.

The Ambulance Service, splendid as the opportunity it offered, proved insufficient for one who had so thoroughly caught the spirit of France in her mortal combat with a cruel and relentless foe and who had so completely dedicated his young life to the great cause of a suffering humanity. By temperament and inclination Jack Wright was well fitted for service in the air ; and it was in this branch of the service that he early sought and promptly secured his opportunity to make his full contribution to the common cause and the welfare of the France he loved. In that service, joyful and unafraid, and almost at the moment when as a commissioned officer he was about to take his place on the firing-line itself, he met his glorious death.

The memory and inspiration of such a life and such a death are a priceless heritage to those who still fight the common foe and to those who to-day and in the days of perplexity still to come must continue to fight life’s stern battles and answer life’s eternal challenge to youth to make realities of its visions and to enthrone above the transient and material the spiritual verities that alone endure. Had Jack Wright lived to be an "Ace of Aces" in the mere destruction of human life he could not have made a greater contribution to the cause to which he had unselfishly devoted himself. By his example he has pointed out to youth its highest goal and by his influence he has helped and will continue to help aspiring youth to persevere and attain. Idealism, which makes for all that is finest and best in human life, has been glorified and enriched by this brave boy who held and lived true to high ideals and gladly died in their defense.

He scarce had need to doff his pride or slough the dross of earth.

E’en as he trod that day to God so walked he from his birth, 
In simpleness and gentleness and honour and clean mirth."

Alfred E. Stearns

Principal of Phillips Academy
Andover, Mass.



À bord de la Touraine

Au REVOIR, chère maman, vois-tu, me voici déjà français. I can only say a word as the pilot is leaving — stop crying, read a book, work, work, work, and within two weeks you’ll feel all right. I don’t know why you shouldn’t now, for I feel absolutely at home. It’s just a trip with sights here and there — no more. A year ago we used to talk lightly of ambulanceers — my being in it cannot augment the importance or the glory or the danger of our former opinions.

We have two wonderful guns aboard, one of which is sixteen inches across the muzzle. Sharpshooters man them. Every one is friendly, and I hear with great enthusiasm that little Red Cross nurses are aboard to tickle our fancies. Ta lettre m’est chère because it is written at a changing point in your life. I notice the change, as I notice all, and am quite satisfied. You have shared the glories of Art — the such must now be re-emplaced by other beauties. You are going through a grand experience — d’envoyer un fils à la guerre — and life is only measured by the weight of its various experiences — the bigger the weight the bigger the life....

Remember to Mr. W. that this letter’s sympathies are equally his, though the pilot may refuse me permission to express them silently. I think he understands my silent gratitude as you do my silent love — at least I hope so.

Bid good-bye and tender wishes to the many complaining ones who will be pestering you for my lack of civility in not bidding them good-bye.

Miss Mack’s letter was unforgettable ; it contained a background. I shall always be interested in her.

I refuse to send you Godspeed and blessing as every letter I have received has sent me, but I do send you the hope that you’ll have your own soul’s blessing.

Man’s soul is the shrine of religion, you know.

Extremely affectionately, my dear mère


Read again the poem by Henri Bataille "Mères de France" or "Mères douloureuses." It contains a-plenty for you, and the last line has a ruggedness that is full of Saxon granite.


À bord de la Touraine 
6 May, 1917


This is Sunday. Tuesday morning I expect to land. In other words, there’s little time left for torpedoes. Nevertheless many gunners, to the number of thirty, man our guns and scan the horizon ; the lifeboats are ready ; lights are kept out ; extra shells are being fused ; mats are being put back of each gun ; torpedo boats cruise, invisible, around us ; all told, we feel like a chest of gold in Chicago.

This morning I went to a Catholic mass on board and got all mixed up, but the Catholics did too, and the priest had to turn around every while and correct them.

About twenty soldiers are on board going back from leave in America. A number of Fords and some Pathé films of Joffre’s American tour complete the cargo. The boys are fun and time is slowly passing by.

The first four days I was sea-sick on account of the storm, but now not a white cap can be seen. Schools of flying fish follow us and dive under the boat.

This P.M. French soldiers are getting up a vaudeville. I mean the priest gets it up — and on Sunday.


We made 450 fr. at our vaudeville out of 100 spectators, for the benefit of Secours National.

Now all passengers must keep their clothes on until arrival at the river’s mouth, and life preservers must always be at hand.

Last night I read a little Verlaine and wrote a couple of bad poems à sa façon. I got up for lunch as usual ; it is tout à fait en accord with the height of laziness I am floating in these steamer days. In fact, that’s why I wrote poetry last night, as a pill to wake me up for the arrival. The arrival, however, will probably be drizzling and lengthened out to fatigue instead of bathed in sunshine ’neath the happiness of a rich blue sky.

Paris — May 11

I have seen France at Tuesday dawn ; and Paris at Tuesday eve. I am just about crazy as we might say. I wander the streets in awe, like a farmer on Broadway, excepting that every two minutes I start shrieking with joy ; I can hardly hold myself in ; I never fully realized this beauty before—every Frenchman ought to be a genius.

I cannot write now. I can hardly talk. The only people so far seen were the Griziers, a couple of old pupils, my room (for it is a personality), and all were wild to see me.

Remember me to dear Mr. W. and trust in a nearby letter.

Most affectionately



May 18


Excuse my tardiness. In the meantime I have been made foreman over a gang of twenty men to construct barracks. I was asked by our chief to go out with our new organization —the Munition Transports that supply the guns — and make sketches for articles to be published in America. I am, with sixteen others, to drive big five-ton Pierce-Arrow trucks.

This P.M. I arrived at the instruction camp twenty miles behind the trenches near where I camped one Easter (with French Boy Scouts). I can detail no more.

The country is wooded and hilly, with the sunlit villages of stone and the sheep and the songs of soldiers. I am now writing in the court of an ancient Charlemagne fort farmyard where rabbits, cats, goats, and a big dog hide and seek around the piles of country, smelling of new-mown hay, and where poilus smoke and argue and sing perched in the notch of an ancient low tower or under the tumbling arch of a door way.

The country is of such a May green and blossoming that war seems impossible and yet every night we can hear the guns and watch the distant rockets.

Good-bye for a moment.




May 19, 1917


You’ll excuse the paper when you know that this note is written from the tower of a mediaeval farm, where goats and calves mix with five-ton Pierce-Arrow trucks, spick and span for war.

As you see, and as mother has doubtless told you, I suddenly took a fancy to serve France and came within as quick a time as transportation permitted. Were it not for the warm sun that is baking the rolling hills of the peaceful French country ; were it not for such a homelike and slumbering environment, I should scarcely myself be able to believe that within a week I had jumped from the petty world of academic studies to the biggest war nations ever poured their blood into.

After a week in Paris where I awaited my ambulance, I was suddenly sent with a transport section that carries munitions up to the line, so that I should make sketches to be sent to America.

Within three months, though, I will be back to a Ford ambulance unless something else turns up or unless I prefer to remain here.

Twenty boys and two Profs of my school have come with me, so I feel quite at home. But of course I am at home anyway since France means so very much to me. I have always been in Paradise here. I have often been in Hell in America. Then the war is a sight that only a fool or a prisoner would miss.

I consider what I am learning now, worth a year of schooling ; although it impedes in no way in that. On the contrary, it gives me my diploma at Andover and gets me into Harvard next year.

At present I am staying at a farm ; rather at an instruction camp. Within a week we form up our section and leave for the front.

In Paris I saw a number of friends, but was chiefly occupied in the shopping. That city, of course, still remains unequalled in beauty throughout the world.

For a couple of days I was foreman over twenty men for the building of barracks, etc. Now I am off for three months of steady physical work and expect to become what the war has made of millions of French men and women.

Most lovingly, my Nana




It may seem queer to you that I have not written you sooner, but my time has been filled to such an extent that I have only been able to write mother, out of all those who expect letters from me.

In Paris I had not even time to see my intimate friends. In the field I have not time even to draw a series of sketches which I have been ordered to do by our chief, for articles to be sent to America.

As you know, I am now running ammunition up to the batteries. The work is that of a man and will probably make men of us all. The group forming our camp is made up of Cornell, Dartmouth, and Andover. The first American flag to float alone over American troops in France is high above us on the trunk of a long pine, and as the worn-out soldiers of France march by they cheer us as saviours. The glory that we are bestowed with is so much that it becomes comical, but nevertheless it does us good to feel ourselves some of the first American troops.

As yet we have had no trouble, but any day an aeroplane or some gun fire could settle the matter.

With such surroundings I have become quite a little heathen. I work about a big Pierce-Arrow like a regular chauffeur ; I never read a book ; I eat war bread and cheese, with guns flashing next to me and while sitting on a truck load of ten thousand pounds of dynamite. It is n’t exactly the trigonometry propositions and the little tea parties of Andover or New York. It is still further from the entanglements of Broad Street and Wall Street, yet I am so sure that you would have the time of your life here that I cannot understand why you should not take a vacation of six months, see something you’d never believe and go back to work again fully five years younger.

There are pages I could write you about my present life, but neither of us have time for them. I would like to ask you how things are going in New York, but I know that most of your existence there consists of hard work and on that subject I can’t converse yet. All I can say is that I hope you will understand that I fully appreciate your regards towards me, and that though I may appear somewhat neglective, now and then, my respect and my sympathies axe none less than my appreciation.

Very sincerely



War Zone of the French Armies On the Eastern Front
May 25, 1917


This is not a very sacred place to answer such a sweet letter. I am in a large camp tent with boys singing, sleeping and smoking. Right next door in some fake trenches, Alpine chasseurs are throwing hand-grenades that shake the guts out of you. Overhead the constant purr and buzz of aeroplanes keep up the time of twenty kilometres behind the lines.

Yesterday our trucks pounded along a trip of five hours or so, during which time I had to drive past rolling field artillery for miles.

We arrived at ----, the first big town since Paris. It is of very Spanish inhabitants so that our one hour there was ringing with merriment and flirtation from us drivers up to our French officers.

In the morning we had target practice. You see with the job I’ve got now we carry guns and cartridges. The day before yesterday, a brigadier of the section we’re bound for was killed by our bombardment while trying to hide himself.

The valley is merry with May sunshine, new leafage, blue sky, Alpine chasseurs, and the mixing of wine and spring songs. Just now I’m waiting to learn when I take my twenty-four-hour leave to Paris from this training camp before leaving for the front.

I have very little time to myself as yet.

June 1

Just back from the leave. We got to Paris at noon. I invaded the coiffeur’s. He was on permission too. Then lunch and shopping. A French lady helped me out in the post office and I thereby made her delightful acquaintance. Such things, though, are only a matter of daily event in this Parisian swimming pool.

I had an early dinner at the Café des Lilas where by chance I sat next to a charming girl I had met last night in Paris. She is the beautiful "amie" of an ambulanceer and a very good camarade. Then I walked through the grand Luxembourg Gardens ; its terraces where the artists’ models and young family girls just learning to pose stroll carelessly in its caressing atmosphere. I had a "Fraise" at a café just to watch the types walk the "Boul. Miche." ...

We took the evening-train at eight o’clock with high spirits, but low hearts. Then from ten to one o’clock at night we had a truck ride. That, of course, is like riding on artillery wagon seats at full gallop, in the dust of a whole army through the cold of the North Pole. The rest of the night I slept in my bunk without bothering to undo my shoe laces, having been going since four in the morning before, to one that morning, and "some going."

To-day, Friday, we are taking our last day of rest (it’s the only one too) before packing bags for a trip unknown. The sun in coming out, brought out the mandolins, and between the two, vague thoughts of yesterday’s Paris and a month ago’s home, filter through our weariness as the souvenir notes of a song from out the past.

I received quite a love letter from my little unknown girl way down along the twining Doubs river. But hélas ! such other things call me with such other forces that my idle, magnetized soul cannot hypnotize myself to going down to see her — though I easily could....

By the way, an adjutant of chasseurs whom I was talking with two days ago is now being buried. You see some hand-grenades went off too soon during practise work and — well, a number of other soldier friends had their faces wiped off at the same time.

I will write you more whenever I get time. You will learn much more, though, of my trip from my diary when I get back, than from the little side notes of those hasty careless letters. With much love,

Your affectionate son


Give all my best wishes to Mr. W. Remember me to my friends and thank all those who sent me their vague wishes of love with an equal amount of very distant gratitude.

Irwin, the famous "Sat. Eve. Post" war correspondent, visited camp and got some snap shots which I was in. Be on the look out for a write up or photos in that magazine at any time.

The French War Minister had some movies and photographs taken at our instruction camp, which I was also in. They will be exhibited in America.

Remember that I am in the "Transport Munitions" by five-ton Pierce-Arrow trucks, that I have a gun and that I am one of the first thirty American soldiers in France.

I am not in the ambulance now. Later, I will change over to the ambulance to see that side too.


June 4, 1918

MY DEAR HARRISON : [Classmate at Phillips Academy, Andover.]

How can I write you all that I have to say ! I cannot ; so I shan’t. Just accept with a conventional smile a much conventional letter, concerning my present health my present satisfaction with the world and all my other little presents.

This letter will reach you after the term and the "exams" are over. I know it was mean of me to leave you up on the hill, but after trying to persuade you that you could come, my selfishness told me I had done my duty and that self-sacrifice was but a dream-vision of Youth, unpractical in the life of business-like reality which the world is made of.

... Were I to tell you of my return to France, the first sight of her shores in the blue light of early morn ; were I to tell you of the return to Paris, the actual vision of what I had contemplated but as an unrealizable dream ; were I to tell you of my life in Paris, the heart of the city and the beloved wonderful girls you meet ; were I to tell you of passing out of the gates of Paris into the arms of France’s peaceful country land in the uniform of "one of them" ; were I to tell you of the first thundering crash of a shell, the faint smell of battle and the distant incense of a gigantic spirit of the "Marseillaise" fighting for Victory ; were I to tell you all that I have seen, felt, gone through, experienced in my first one and a half months of adventure, I would be writing in one letter the wonders of the "Divine Comedy," of Boccaccio’s "Sonnets," of Verlaine and Gibson and the unspelled poetry of Paradise itself. See, then, why I refuse to write, why I shall only scribble, not even describe or even give you the notes of my diary. Some day you will hear me talk of it. Some day you will read my diary ; some day you will live a while in the land where I came to walk a moment with my soul and then you shall think that for one vague dream second you shall have caught a glimpse of what my heart’s Paradise is — a glimpse only, though ; an unperfumed, unfelt glimpse.

But why rave on so blundersomely ? Listen ! Troops are passing, ranks of blue-clad, helmeted troops of France ! Their bugles clash in the morning, and I stand with awe as they march towards the nearby woods from which the smoke of shells is rising. See ! to my left a peaceful little lake, a primitive rowboat and white oxen lying in the high grass just beyond ; between the trees the stone walls of the château are baking in the sun, and underneath the trees a nurse, all in white and very silent, passes along the garden path. That, then, is my present life and of that only dare I give you the most microscopic aspect.

I am driving a five-ton Pierce-Arrow truck these days instead of a Ford, and hauling thousands of pounds of death up to batteries, instead of bringing back the dying. I am doing something positive —not negative. At the same time I am making sketches of this first unit of American soldiers for magazines and books of propaganda in America. It is an order for which I am not paid, but which I willingly accept.

We are the first American soldiers in France, inasmuch as we carry rifles and are a part of the war machine, ready for fight and defense and prison camps, all of which the ambulance is not. Other colleges are joining us week on week and soon we shall be quite a regiment.

I can tell you nothing of my trip ; it is too great. You see I am in Paradise, That’s all I can say.

Bien à toi, mon ami


Until July 28 my address is

T.M. 527 par B.C.M.


Convois automobiles, Section Américaine


June 7


Excuse all, — paper, wit, and brévité, — for I am at war — at least I am vaguely concerned with it. You see I have written to no one but mother. What I am doing takes up all my energy and strength ; it consists of driving a five-ton Pierce-Arrow truck full of five more tons of ammunition up to the batteries on the firing line. I am on a trip of adventure and am therefore rushed with new adventure every minute of my life. As a result, I am becoming more as ye ancient adventurer who rode the moonlit highways long ago with a rapier by his side and a swear-word for a bible. I have become rash, indifferent, brutal, and impatient. I never touch my pen or my pencil. I never woo nor pine : I just take ; I never drive : I race ; I never stand still : I am in action ; I never think or dream : I just do.

It is a life I had thought unrealizable in such modern times, but I have found out that war brings with it all the barbarism of the past and the wars gone by that had lain in a grave during peace time.

Paris is for me a Babylon and the country of France is for me a plain overflowing with the fever of the Huns ; the incense of bursting shells and smoking powder.

In Paris I am sought after as a hero. In the country I seek after and find. The firing lines are awful and it takes all the grit you’ve got to stand them. You must be ready for Hell as well as Paradise when you come here, but if you do come, you’ll find them both, and at their highest pitch. I sincerely hope you do come and honestly believe you will. I want you with me very much, for your influence helps me and gives me a laugh to work and woo with. In fact you would be a great companion for my present six months of adventure, and you would perhaps help me formulate and accompany me in carrying out of vague desires for wandering and further adventure beyond the distant horizon line.

I am deeply lured by service at Salonica, by working my way down to the mystic, templed shores of uncomprehensible India and into the flowery, mediæval heart of Japan where the peasants wear ancient costumes and the Oriental women have weird and fascinating ways of flirtation. I want to watch the brown-skinned Grecian women bathe by Salonica’s waters. I want to hear the Hindoo priestesses sing ’midst the clouds of incense ; I want to hold an Oriental geisha in my young American arms.

Are you coming, then ?

Are you coming with me ?

Or will you spend your years of youth and adventure in conventional America that any one can see at any time ?

With my best wishes to you in any case, and my fondest love to your dear mother, —

Je te serre la patte.



June 11, 1918


You see I am writing you on your birthday. Perhaps you’ll never see the letter, but nevertheless I write. I could write of everything under God’s sweet sky and yet only be telling you fifty per cent of what I’ve done and gone through.

I’ve been under shell-fire ; drank wine in dug-outs, fired cannons, walked the connecting trenches, raced round Paris, seen aeroplanes fall to their death, heard the wounded cry ...

Milked a cow from the German trenches, been in German officers’ headquarters, driven trucks, Fords, officers’ cars, donkeys ; sketched, written and felt blue and more than anything else, as always — I’ve dreamed ...

Just as this moment I am smelling roses in an English pasture, thinking of having tea with the nurses in the château.




July 1


Your last letters quite discouraged me, for I have written you on an average of once a week since I left America, telling you of some of the incidents around my new life ; telling you of the success we are having with the newspapers and movie men and what Paris and French country have meant to me.

However, if boats lose mail, one must not fret in their cozy corner, but simply remember that whatever small ills one may happen to have, they are totally unproportional and immeasurable with these horrible tragedies that sweep down from the most northern point of Russia to the most southern point of Africa.

I hope that you will at least receive half my letters, for I can understand your worry. As long as you have not got the little chain-bracelet I wear on the hand now writing you, do not worry.

War is reduced for me now to the trenches and the air. Outside of that I have become so habituated to the steady flow of ammunition wagons, reserve troops and troops on leave that I pay no more attention to their wondrous system that back up the front line than I would pay to the traffic in New York. In fact, it is aggravating to always be "just behind" the action. You are practically as sure as though driving along the roads of Massachusetts, if not safer. The ambulance risks a little more. However, the other day towards dusk, While approaching Château Soupir, a fairy shell construction on which Calmet spent millions, as we were nearing the ridge behind which desperate fighting was taking place, a smoke as that of a bonfire puffed up thirty yards to our starboard. I wondered where the gypsies were, when a crackling of timber made it dawn upon me that the smoke was that of a Boche "seventy-seven" digging a rain-hole for horses to drink out of. About twenty-five seconds after it was over I remembered that once upon a time a Frenchman had told me to lie down so I squatted behind the dasher ; some fifty seconds still later, I realized ; things becoming clearer and clearer that it was all over. I looked ahead. Instead of speeding up, the cars had all slowed down and we were waiting for another explosion, with our vest pockets set.

The rest of the night, as every night, I had plenty of amusements : wine in officers’ dug-outs, joking with soldiers, visiting batteries, going through the château in spite of "Défense d’entrer, — Quartiers Généraux" — learning how things were really done and why, and what the ways of war sent out to me in their silent, indifferent messages. I also walked through a connecting trench for the first time up to the little fort of a "seventy-five." The French call the connecting trenches "boyaux," or "guts," if translated, because of their zig-zag course to avert fire.

That is a night on the camions, but I am tired of it now — the novelty wears off — one needs new adventures or else absolute peace, work and time to think.

These last three days, not having been out and being inspired by the continual chilling sleet, the echoes of German attacks thirteen kilometres over the hills and the gigantic English pasture which spreads out in front of me and the chateau here, I have been writing a poem which means late hours.

Now I have obtained a trailer to live in, instead of the barracks, claiming that I needed a studio. A trailer is a cabin on wheels. I chose a fine chap to come down and help me fix it up for us both and so each day we take expeditions around the famous hunting country of France in hunt of flowers for our cabin and flowers for our hearts — the latter is not lacking, thanks to my vest pocket.

The last time my curiosity led me into a charming summer villa where three exquisite Parisiennes were smiling and perfuming away the summer-time, one of them being in love with an aviator who comes to kiss her each morning in his aero before risking his life over the lines. Oh ! war as nothing else brings you back to the adventurous times of old.

God bless those who linger in America, for they are brave not to drop all business and tea parties for the inhuman events in France. In fact, if they knew what they were missing, they would.

It is not that you see so much, but that from details here and there, from atmosphere and contact with things and heroes you soon learn to feel what you had already read of in legends as that which was forever entombed in the past.

We have a number of artists in camp amongst whom is the decorator Lepeltier, who has a big bunch of studios near the Madeleine. His designs are used as standards on the Louis XIII, XIV, XV, and XVI periods, in the art schools of America. He’s a good chap and we’re quite chummy.

I found that all out, otherwise I’d have never known, for the main thing of war is that you all meet without knowledge of your respective positions.

I’ve found a singer who sang with Caruso at the Metropolitan, who carries lumber at our main loading base, and many such as he ran across my path. I, too, to them am only a poilu — not even that, for I have not seen the trenches. I am almost an "embusqué," so safe is my job.

Our captain here is a good chap and intelligent — at least well "instruit." We often talk together. It is funny to see how all the dainty French officers up to the Colonels included have been suddenly shifted to little one-horse Fords by the Government.

You speak of dying of ennui in the country — mon Dieu, I remained three years at Andover. If you are bored with life, it’s your own fault. Ah, well, I must talk to you to prove it, so don’t expect a solution here, but just take it for granted and get in the country and think, think, think, from 7 A.M. to 12 P.M. ; exercise and eat — then go to bed and sleep. When you get back to the city again, you’ll wonder you could ever have been like the thousands of fluttering birds that dabble with a little work some three or four hours each morning and then gabble away the rest of the day. Just suppose you had Mr. W.’s shoes on for a day. Ye gods, would n’t it just be too dreadful for words ! Yet he grinds in and out the three hundred and sixty-five days of each year and that year in, year out.

Six of our section of forty have been sent to Meaux to become Second Lieutenants. If I stick with the service a few more months, I’ll get there too, but I have further plans in view. Just remember that your son is now a rank adventurer, that is to say, with plenty of adventures but little danger, so do not worry. Just accept my letters tranquilly, and if you do so, you shall learn all and each thing that I do.

Now I will take a walk over the hill to the town built into, in, under and over a cliff. Some friends are there and we’ll have tea ; on the way back I’ll pick some flowers. The wheat fields are sprinkled with the blue (bluets), the white marguerites and the red poppies. A barrage fire has been raging over the other hills during the past three days of rain — it sounds like approaching the lions’ cages of the zoo.





Your letters are awfully good, way off from home. It’s awfully nice of you to write me so thoroughly and kindly every once a week. They’re just like cake and ice cream, not forgetting the chocolate nut sauce, over here in the war-dried land. You know we can’t get a single luxury in the war zone outside of some coarse chocolate. We do get jam, three times a day, so we don’t eat it much between meals. The cigarettes would kill an ordinary horse, but we quite enjoy them ; in fact the Fatimas that used to be too strong in the States are sickeningly weak over here.

I’ve spent an hour writing twelve little pages in my diary about yesterday. You will really learn more of my trip when I get home. Now I can hardly find time to tell you of my health and send a few material facts and incidents without the least of description or sentiment.

Yesterday I left the park where we were unloading a mile behind the trenches, and though the noise of the batteries was a little dizzying, I made my way to one of them —a "hundred and five." The artillery men got me behind a tree, a whistle blew, and the whole world was lightning. Well, after the cloudburst, I straightened my disjointed features and immediately began to inquire just how often the Germans popped at them and just how often they were popped. They laughed at me — told me their job was a cinch ; that only three men had been killed that week so far, and that an hour or so ago the first shells of the day exploded some forty yards off . I wanted to retreat, but then the ridge ahead of me let out such an explosion I thought the whole thing was blown up. It was the "seventy-fives" on top, opening fire — and what a fire ! Balls of lightning leapt from muzzle to muzzle and clouds of red flame burst upwards as they sent Hell screeching through the air as actually and deadly as man could invent.

This war is all electric operation, explosions, —death— all, and that is what fills you with fear — a fear of electricity, of the unknown and omnipotent.

Then some strings of light-balls floated up like champagne bubbles, so to call aeroplanes back ; rockets signalled the guns, star shells made the night day for two miles around.

I had always wanted to go in the trenches some quiet period for just a little visit. I had thought it a curiosity. Now I no longer shall think about playing with death. Death means a lot when you talk about it while leaning with one hand on the muzzle of a five-inch gun and stopping up your ears with the other.

My greatest attainment so far on this trip has been to arrive at understanding the French poilus. At first I admired them, then I grew tired of them and was even disgusted at them. Since last night, though, I have been able to understand them, to feel myself their comrade, and to know that each common one is such a hero as I may never be.

I landed back at camp at three, having started out at three. I went to bed feeling that I could face a New York gang of gunmen as though catching butterflies, after what I had heard that night, that very quiet night as the Frenchmen say, when no one ever has worries as long as they be safe with the heavy artillery.

We have now the cutest blue overalls — or uniforms, rather—that is a mixture between pajamas and a sailor’s suit. It’s awfully cool and most of the French army wear them. It’s roasting hot over here so we get a swim nearby every two days.

Every other day we get orders to take our camions (trucks) out for ten to twelve hours.

The other night we tried to have a fight between the sections, just to stir up the stagnancy of camp life, but even that died down, so I talked the evening away.

I discovered some French poetry in camp and also a picture of myself and others that came out in the Boston Sunday Herald about the first half of May.

I can send no more postcards from the war zone. The Captain has forbidden it. But I will write as much as time allows. You see, even on rest days, we are kept busy.

Pershing was received as a victorious Roman general. We expect him ourselves soon.

Give my love to every one and remember me especially to Mr. W.

I am your devoted son



Western Front
July 9, 1917


Your letters have a ceaseless charm : they bring me all the warm luxury and love from my little circle back in America. Your letters frame the twirl of events and persons that are dear to me in a homelike atmosphere that is sweet in this world of war and that mingles harmoniously with the souvenirs of yonder that now and then pass over the wheat and poppy fields ’midst veils and fairy wings.

Each day I realize—with little help from my imagination, with little influence from brass button uniforms (they’re not very bright in the mud and danger of front life)— I realize that then my present service of truckdriver not only contains faults such as you would expect in any hardship wearing service, but is lacking in some factors that are fundamental, if one chooses that war is better than peace for the education of one’s youth.

The service has much monotony. It is entirely monotonous, for your events are but a repetition of themselves. You are a work horse pulling a load of stones over the same road each day, with, for a horizon of hope or a world of beauty, the ugly back of the stone cart in front of you.

This service is an illusion that cultivates false vanity in the hearts of the weak and shame in the hearts of the strong. You think that because you wear a uniform and now and then carry shells for some one else to fire, you are participating in the war. You are not. What you are doing is a participation in the system that prepares material for other men to wage war with. You are not in the war any more than the scene-shifter is on the stage. One is the actor and sometimes the matinée idol ; the other is the scene-shifter or the page. Both wear uniforms, though, and both uniforms pertain to the theatre and are connected with the stage.

We pass as bus-drivers, coal-haulers, with our convois of automobiles, such as you would see around factories and mines and which you would consider so, were they not on French soil instead of American.

At the same time that our jangling trucks roll around through villages animated with soldiers of France or country resorts, where tender lips await the hero’s return, at the same time out of our reach but all around us, blow the bugles of the men of the day, clap and flap the banners of France and Freedom.

War’s great caldron of heroism, praise, glory, poetry, music, brains, energy, flashes and glows, rustles and roars, fills the heavens with its mighty being — its world far off from ours, rushing fast and faster around us, while yet we ceaselessly roll as many a month ago, in the dust of the same roads, puffing over bumps and hills the same loads undeserving to even think what the life of a warrior is. We are not even feeling war, for the heart of it beats in blood ; not even breathing it, for the soul of it exhales in the high-up clouds of gold.

Illusioned by a sense of false service, false bearing of war burdens, we think ourselves inspired ; think ourselves worthy to live in France, and day in, week out we pass as newly rich bourgeois in the rich studio of warfare. We dabble with its greatness, mimicizing the most gigantic drama of the world’s history — the final struggle between democracy and autocracy, as some society girl would gabble her criticism of Victor Hugo finding him generally too exaltant or too chaotic.

The service dawns to me more and more with the glimmering of but a pale green moon ’midst a world of stars, zephyrs and gigantic oaks. You see, when one has drunk with the men in war gray-blue, whose faces under the glinting steel of their helmets have been heroically stamped with the conglomeration of Hell, called the trenches ; when you hear these big-pulsed volunteers of Freedom talk of the hearts and honors that await them, and that, feeling really worthy of such returns, will really enjoy them ; when you have seen men wind their way, singing the "Marseillaise," toward the land of death, while you bump around on a seat of a bulky truck, nearing the front but by night, sharing none of the danger and none of the bravery, it is only natural that you should feel as Frenchmen call chauffeurs of my age —"embusqué."

What right have I to dress up in a stylish khaki uniform, buttoned and belted and parade, the gauntlet of wondrous eyes ? Why the important air with which I pass down the boulevards of Paris, scorning civilians, seeking praise ? I have no right to even the muddy coat of a poilu. I should be shining his shoes, instead of tossing a tip with a snobby air to the bellboy who shines my boots at the Continental. Perhaps I’m not quite as bad, but when I’ve seen the suffering I’ve seen, I feel that way. Why, I don’t feel at home even to talk to the least flower girl in Paris. I shirk to accept the open-hearted hospitality of a poilu.

I have no right to the comradeship of men who put no price to their lives or at least who have the grit to stand up for some god or other. If a man can’t come over here to fight, he has no right to share with the fighters — to enjoy the beauty of a land that’s waging war — to seek the sympathy of women in mourning. I should return immediately to America and forget that I had made such a bad attempt at giving a hand to a friend, or else remain in France and stick by her blood and bone. That’s what a dog can do — why can’t I ? Why should n’t I ?

This service is the lowest form of warfare. It consists of treading as an elephant ’midst the gardens of Allah. We bang down a dusty, clouded road, ’midst grease and oil, with loads of timber and shells, to a park a mile or two behind danger, and roll back to camp in the drizzle and sleet of half night, half morning, to sleep. Then we eat — that is quite an event ; then we clean cars or carry out some orders meant to keep us busy, or else we loaf all day and all evening, and some of the night we gape up at the infinite heavens — not there to find a ray of glory, thanking us from on high, but to ponder over just how the weather will be next day.

In front of a wheel that needs hardly to be turned, we sit for hours as a china dog, gulping in dust and bouncing over long roads in the dream that we are doing our duty to humanity ; that we are paying back the debt we owe our ancestors who bought our freedom at the price of their lives, ambitions, ideals, and what else their souls were set on.

Again, it’s the lowest form of warfare : we are the snail crawling slowly, heavily all day long in mud and in the far distant echo of bugles, fire, charges, medals, praise ...

This service is most occupied with inaction ; now and then only does it wake up, but only an awakening to sleep, for truck-driving soon becomes deaf and dumb slumber. Either one should stay in peaceful America and cast the war far from his luxurious couches or one should fully swell his breast proudly, patriotically, under a fighter’s coat of mail and enter one’s self entirely into the deepest of war’s depths and the highest of its heights ; never to vainly, hypnotized look on at others fight, concealed in the bushes, wrapped in a velvet cloak, clinking a ballroom rapier. Why, I don’t even know how to walk in my uniform. It is more than I am.

No in-between can exist in the world if one wishes to avert the horror of becoming a living dead. Everything must be idealistic.

Idealism is extremes. If one desires to get the most out of the biggest God gave to get, one must plunge into it to the end of its extremes.

Shall it be Peace or War ? Shall it be Bourgeoisie or Romance ? Shall you learn life and learn to appreciate it to its fullest or shall you not ?

This service is a bluff any way you turn. Service, danger, heroism, praise, glory — all that war contains it mimics. It makes a bluff and makes you bluff . You are here in a world of grandeur, wonder, miracles and with men that make them, and yet you are not "one of them."

To be out of a crowd, to belong to no "frat," to have no comrade, brother, to be a hermit, unmystic, unnoticed, un-anything, is a feeling no human can stand. As it is now, I am not "one of them."

The widow in mourning asks me if I have been "with them" ; the café girl washes away her paint as she hears the soldiers are coming back and asks me if I am "one of them." The little boy takes me joyfully by the hand, for he thinks something of me, and pointing to his father’s grave says, " It seems you are ’one of them.’"

You can only be worthy of France’s friendship and feel yourself intimately connected with the heroes (who are the people of your daily contact) ; and how else could you wish to be connected with them ; you can only feel yourself "one of them" by doing, offering, taking even as they are ; otherwise, is one to take the tinsel-tassel before the eyes of all, of a carpet-knight amongst women, a tourist amongst countries and men ? An optimist onlooker to the accomplishments of working humans ? ...

Why do I think my heart beating in time with the heart of France ? Just because I’m here ? Why do I put my hands in the hands of these brave peoples — where are my rights, my password, my papers ? The few shells I’ve seen — why the "poilus" call them a bore.

If one intends to live, he must reap what life spreads out to him. A man lives in the true sense of the word, proportionately to the inspiration he derives from nature and events. All other life is but ephemeral, sensual pleasure. If, then, you are to live, you must live not in lukewarmness, for its inspiration is despicable, worse than criminal ; it is Flaubert’s everlasting enemy — Bourgeoisie ; not then in an "in-between" but in the extreme, which Idealism and the highest of life commands.

Extreme demands extreme in every way, thought and action ; dreams and accomplishments. Then I must live to the extreme of life’s following steps :

1. Childhood — impressions — discovery — foolishness.

2. Youth — adventure, romance, preparation for manhood.

3. Manhood — grand amour (since love is the greatest in life — even greater than Art).

Home — wife — children.

4. Old age — brain pleasure.

Here, then, is my philosophy : That since I choose to live life as an Idealist, each one of the aforesaid steps must be lived to the utmost possible, for the benefit of those following me and the delight of my soul.

If I die in the fulfilling of one of the steps, what remains of pleasure in life will cause me no regret, for unto ashes shall I be returned. If not, "tant mieux !"

Two propositions seem to object : —

1. That my decision is egotistical — yet if every man thought of the pleasure and beauty in life, wars would cease ; men would rise intellectually and the world morally.

2. That my decision is inconsiderate of those nearest to me — yet I was not asked whether I wanted to come into life — why then should I ask others whether I could leave it or not ? Besides, the greatest treasure a man has is his life — no other person should propose to himself a claim on it. I have my own life to live — may it be done worthily.

You see, dear mother, I am in a very curious world — on a very queer planet. One does no work, yet somehow life is much larger. The past—the grumbling civilization I left behind me has become but a collection of trifling memories. That is why such queer ideas come to me. Perhaps they are all wrong ; if so, please do tell me, but do not forget to tell me why.

Most devotedly and appreciatively, I await impatiently your answering letter.



14 July, 1917


Doubtless on such a day as this I should write in eloquent words an international philosophy, seeing that this is usually considered a world-wide fête.

The mondial horizon of this day, as far as I have seen, has been under my "trailer" the first half of the day, and under the car, the last half. I almost stayed under my trailer (that’s my house), for the whole thing got tired of standing up on its wheels and came down to take a rest on my back.

Please start to understand things. When I left America I thought I was a hero. I now consider myself a shirker and a fool. In America, you see us under shellfire from the time we get up. Please see it as it is. A shell once a month and the rest either running these busses along some road with about as much excitement as running a trolley car — only that there are not as many stops — or writing poetry in a little peasant village.

This work is not that of a man full of the blood of youth, with inspiration and with ideals. This was made for the lowest type of man — not even the chauffeur, but the peasant. It is a peasant-like, animal toil. Not that I mind the work and the fatigue, but that I mind doing it for so little positive result. If an intellectual man comes over here to help France, he should help her, if he has any patriotism, not with arms and legs, but with his brains. Is there anything more dramatic than to let go to waste the most vital factor of modern warfare — the spirit and energy of Youth ? Is there anything more dramatic than to hold in, any small promise of grandeur in a human ? It is the bourgeois parent quenching the spark of Art in the child ; the New England mother forbidding her son to leave the farm and expand himself. It is weighing down a fellow by the neck by putting his red-blooded vitality to driving trucks instead of driving for positive results and victory, side by side with the other boys who are expanding their young souls as the beauty of youth requires and the breed of their nation demands.

If there is a factory of beauty in the world, nothing could be more bourgeois than to hold it down ; nothing could be more criminal than to hinder its perfecting itself.

Is there any more glorious factory of beauty in the world than the fiery, soaring, impressioned, enjoying spirit of Youth ? No. Then let its wings take wind and fly. Let them spread on their tornado and fly their highest ! It will be something for the world to look up to, and the world lives in divinity but by the things it looks up to, or can sometimes — rare times, fully attain.

A statue, a picture can never be perfectioned enough, so, at least, develop it to the fullest, if it is to be something big — a monument, a factor in the world.

Please consider the mixture of facts and philosophy that I am giving you in these letters, without indifference and without pessimism. Do not, when reading this, see the world as wholly made up of elder ones, but know that there is another half to it, and a very big one. Look over carefully the steps in life I marked out in my last letter. I have made them a plan to follow for myself (if it be my good fortune to attain them) and I want to feel sure that you agree.

I always consider you very much, mother, but more than you, more than myself, must I be true to the Idealism of the world. That is the greatest god to obey and the greatest religion to be loyal to. More than patriotism, more than home, more than church, does the philosophy which makes man’s life beautiful, strong and divine demand self-sacrifice and loyalty. Mother, inasmuch as it is so high, our human customs and trifling attachments must be unconsidered, our human desires must be sacrificed. In so doing, if there be need, I can see nothing of mourning in the joy of such a divine light and the height of such inspiration. If the Idealism of life in its fulfillment and perfectionment demand that I give up my life for it, mother, your soul should be so filled with the grandeur of it that the smile of the gods should dawn across a heart where human tears were meant.

If I could give my life to make a bit of Idealism perfect itself and live immortal on a mortal world, it would be the highest hope I could attain and the greatest happiness I could enjoy. If I were to live lukewarmly and die weakly, it would be the greatest tragedy I or any human could suffer.

I am only telling you this because I feel assured that you can rise to the appreciation of it. I do not ask you to live to it — just to appreciate it and in the future to sympathize with it as you have so far kindly accepted it in the past. Just as a Roman would be true to his Rome, a Catholic to his God, I hope that you will not fret at my being true to it — the modern religion.

You will remember my poem " Crepusculum Sacrum ("Man’s Soul is the Shrine of Religion").

In following out of a philosophy in life, I would not be doing it through weakness, as when J. J. Rousseau said, "Man must have a god to worship" ; but I am following it out that my life may be a unit, a factor, a piece, of something while yet it is and not dwindled away unlived, unremembered ...

Most affectionately, as ever



Western Front
20 July, 1917


The letter you sent June 25th has greatly impressed me. Although in the midst of much joy it brought back souvenirs of America and New London with the most vivid colors. That you should meet those with whom I held delightful friendship and who were factors in the most perfect summer I have yet passed, is a great joy to me now that I am one year, three thousand miles away from them, and far from the pleasant smiles along the sunny beach or the cool night rides — far isolated from them in a world of much suffering and of much sorrow.

But this is not entirely grief — grief is but a half of my new world. As deep as grief lies buried on the one side, so much higher does joy contrast on the other. However, it is not the joy of the summer resort — it is the gay little peasant street or the flowing gowns and naughty eyes that pass beneath the Paris boulevard trees, or yet the hoarse singing of soldiers behind the lines covered with mud and fatigue, but finding in the twinkling red wine distraction from horrors men have never witnessed. That is joy indeed ; but it is such a foreign joy to me that your letters still bring me the childish sting of homesickness.

Your letter also thrilled me — the initiative power you take with you never fails wherever you go. You seem an Indian Prince travelling with his entire court of gallants, artisans, and officers ; wherever you land a world of art takes birth, and were it in the midst of Sahara, tribes would soon be wending their camels towards the shrine of new life, so mysteriously sprung in their dry country. Though you may lack in certain qualities — which would indeed be contrary to your part of a woman—you always have a self-made environment of art, happiness, and movement that must forcibly make the world one lovely garden for you and surely attract others with its magnetism. Nothing could attract more : Art, happiness, movement.

Yesterday evening I received orders that my permission came to-day. Little would be the amount of whooping and jumping stunts you have seen me go through, compared to those I carried out then. A bath followed immediately. Finally, when much pacified again, I strolled through the little village streets with much the same impression I had upon leaving school.

The houses and walls of vine-sprinkled stone, huddled together in the evening as a big herd of sheep in the pasture of hills surrounding. Over the gray masses and through the evening sky one long streak of yellow was closing the day. Entering the winding main street, I passed groups of men in blue tiredly talking their hours of rest away. Now and then I found a few peasant girls with their old mothers around a doorstep and knowing them, bade them "Bonsoir, Mesdames."

All along the street of many stage-settings, men and women were at peace, sometimes laughing ; more often just reposing far from the land of war.

I was not coming back again to drive trucks along these dusty roads. I would never seek adventure in these hollyhock gardens again. I would no longer buy cigarettes from Madame or "petits gâteaux :" from Mademoiselle. The monotonous village of before became a place of slumber and rest as one big, sweet, reposing grave into which one could always enter weary-worn and afterwards leave with new strength. Of my little village and the two months I had spent there, I was entirely satisfied and betook myself contentedly to bed. "Good-bye, Little Village."

Next morning

This morning, before any one else, I arose in the snappy chill, breathed in the fragrance of a thousand trees and awoke to the dawn of a day of supreme joy. Everything became new. I was to go back to Paris. This time I was one of her soldiers — one who had been to the front ; one who felt somewhat, although not entirely, entitled to the pleasure rivers of her happy capitol. I had set off for school vacations before with more or less of an idea for a good time, but this time life’s pleasures seemed precise , and vivid. I felt my Youth stronger than the adolescence of school days. I knew more of what life was — a great deal more — and I was going back to the joyful city of the French, more than ever prepared to find my pleasures definitely ; to weigh them to their exact proportion ; to feel them contrast with the toil of a nobler sort than study, and more than all to get them and live them by myself, for myself, with the constant knowledge that I was more of a man, and that I had at last worthied myself to gain self-reliance and independence.

My first "séjour à Paris" was exceedingly joyful. It was the return to my first love. But then I put on the uniform — immediately I entered upon a new life and found in my first love a new heart — one that loved me more for greater reasons and one that in return I cherished with a deeper sympathy, for, you see, we were both at war together.

My second séjour, then, was my first permission. As I told you, I felt quite elated to say to my friends, "Oui, en permission."

This is my third séjour. It is really my first permission, for in time, red tape, and the rest, it is truly military. It is also my first return to Babylon from the field of dashing armies — in other words, as we say in 1917, "I have been at the front."

My fourth séjour will be still more joyful, though, for it will be a return to rise higher in the hearts of those I love. Wait ! ...

My fifth séjour will be almost glorious. I will be between the mountain peak and the sky.

My sixth séjour and fifth permission will be glorious if it comes, for I will have attained the sky.

Tell me, many details, dear stenographer, of those you meet at N. Tell me especially about H., for although there are roses of many lands, I never forget those who, in any way, have been tangent to my heart.

Tell me a great deal about her. She won’t have much to say — it was n’t for that I liked her, but she’s always H., so remember me enthusiastically to her.

Tell Dick he’d better come over here before I go fetch him — that if the submarines don’t duck him, I will, for he’s a naughty boy to remain so far away from the world that’s the only one for him.

I have made, varnished, bullet-tipped, and painted myself a curious cane indeed. The decorations on the handle are paintings of an Indian girl and a Russian princess — one each side — the Far West and the Far East ; so that when my hand takes hold of it I can flatter myself by repeating : —

For East is East and West is West, And never the twain shall meet, But in the mighty hand of God

I’d make some cute, little god, now, would n’t I ?

Most affectionately, I am very lovingly




I am now on permission in Paris and many adventures are whirling around the May pole of my youth : meeting Carlos, walks with Bourdelle, and much else of much excitement, but much as that much may seem, it is nothing compared with what I have to tell you.

I have just taken the biggest step of my life — not through bewilderment nor through morbidness, but coolly and decidedly, obeying to a call that for me dominates all the world and its many voices. Inasmuch as it has taken the best in me, it must necessarily take the best in you, and I only hope that now that the challenge rings out, the love and inspiration you have had in me for eighteen years shall not shrink before a greater test and a greater source of their being.

I have joined the Aviation !

This has been no sudden gash of romanticism nor no ceding to influence. It has been the result of serious and hard thinking. I have not treated the matter lightly and claim a firm decision to stick to my choice. Just as you are starting to worry now, have I worried for the past three weeks, every day and every night. I have solved problems of philosophy. I have weighed material facts ; I have listened to inspirations ; I have taken in my surroundings, considered the past, present, and future, and now that the "calcul" is done and the time to draw up the results of three weeks of steady thought has come, I am firm and happy to enlist myself even to the last drop of my energy in the glorious defense of France and Democracy.

There are many reasons for my new action outside of such allurement as glory and prestige. I have told you, though, most of them : the choice between America and peace or France and war ; the desire to be "one of them" over here and to feel fully worthy of France’s beauty and her people’s sympathy ; the desire to be able to say with pride that I have done something real in the greatest of all struggles ; the horror of shirking when boys like me are dying ; the thousand and one other minor reasons that turn by turn assail me stronger and harder day by day as I remain in the new world of Europe.

There are two dominant reasons, however : the first is a law ; the second, a call.

As you understand, a life without a philosophy and an ideal is worthless. From my first age of understanding, I have given my body and soul to the worship of an ideal. It is what has made me. In my letter some days ago, I gave you my philosophy of life — that is what I consider the necessary system of living so that life may be lived to its greatest and highest God made possible for Man. Inasmuch as I am Idealist, it is my duty to obey the law of extremes and live each step of my life to its very extreme. That and that only can make the some little spark of divinity in my human existence that every man strives for. That is the first reason. I must obey the law laid down by the philosophy of my life. No lukewarmness can be tolerated. The chef-d’œuvre must be perfect and man’s chef-d’œuvre is always his life. It is his living Art, his breathing statue—the greatest work he leaves behind him.

The second dominating reason is a call : So far there has been a soldier-poet, a poet of the woods, a poet of all, but as yet there has been no poet of the airs — the wonderlands unknown, unfelt, unseen, but ever worshipped as God’s own grounds, or as the symbol of the highest soarings of men. Nor, as yet, has there been a painter of the airs ; none of color’s wondrous workings amongst the skies overviewing the earth and seas ; none of that has come to us. No originality has let imagination wander with it and lead it on into the making of an artist of the airs. Such a call to my youth almost comes as the sacred voice of a duty to mankind. It has set a new world of promise, hopes, light, happiness, and beauty within me. Am I to refuse the opening gates of heaven for wanderings through earth’s trodden, darkened roads ? I should not only feel like a shirker towards mankind, but a criminal to my soul and a suicider to myself were I to refuse the golden burst of a new day.

Can I not rise to the opportunity and devote every inch of me to the attainment of its heights ? For once in my life I hear the voice of a supreme ideal, of a duty, of a mighty work sweep down on me from its grandeur in silence and might. Those are the two dominant reasons. Much as you must be enraged by now, you will have to admit that they are all-important. I have a great love and consideration for you, as you know, but more than any love on earth must I be true to my ideal. However reasonable though it may seem to have joined, I will not attempt to surround the service with gauzy veils of pink and blue. It is a dangerous service. Many do not come back. It is no child’s play nor no youth’s dream. It is a serious business, hard study, hard work, hard fight. You’ll no longer have a son in the truck service, but a son in the aviation. No longer one who intends to help France, but a son who offers to sacrifice his life for France. Just so much greater that my new service has become, so much the greater reason can you have to be proud of me, and if the love you have in me is worthy of a true Roman mother, you will thank our God that you have a child worthy of you. I appeal to that admiration and to that high inspiration you said came to you from me. I put it to a test now, and hope that being deeply rooted in your heart, it shall not fail to soar still higher, and instead of useless grief, rejoice in the light of my recent decision. A true mother, attached to her country and hopeful in her son, could only be thankful that her son had realized that love and hope she had so long placed in him. Consider the event not as regrettable, but as the glorious realization of all the hopes you had placed in me and the nobility you had prayed to see reflected within me. I think, en plus, that I have at last a right to call myself a Man. I feel like a New Russia. When I come back to you, you will find in me, I hope, not the statuette of a child and a mother’s son, but the monument of a man and a mother’s protector. You know, also, that I have usually been of a brooding nature. Well, now, by Jove, the world just seems one happy burst of sunshine.

Hoping you feel as wonderfully happy as I am




Passy, July 30


Life is very amusing for me. Three days ago in Paris, I crossed the wide Rotunds, bridges, and fluttering boulevards on taxi-wheels of a fortune—smiled-at, flattered, caressed, and known everywhere in each café, on the street, in the theatre ; I enjoyed it immensely.

Now I am writing you on a pine-wood table (such things are famous) in a barren room looking out on the little cobble-stone street of Passy where I sometimes wander down in the morning’s bustle of vegetable women in the sunshine, or in the evening’s mingle of harmonicas, and a rare, sickly street lamp. I am nevertheless enjoying it immensely. In other words, three days ago I was a duke of pleasure ; now I am a broke artist. (I say "artist," for all day long I work at drawings for my chief.)

I enjoyed spending my permission money fastly and wonderfully and now the contrast of work and nothing to enjoy but three meals at headquarters, which I never could stand before.

A month ago I was a truck-driver, dreaming a little and boring myself considerably. A month from now I shall be an aviator, concentrating at continuous work one day, and snobbishly, but oh, how joyously, receiving the invisible laurels of thousands of friends — friends and admirers everywhere I go. You see life over here, the way I am managing to make it, has little in comparison with the conventional, custom-tied, drudgerized, too-much-civilized life of Peaceful America. I consider myself most fortunate to be able, in these modern times, to turn my odd and peculiar dreams into realization — a realization rendered all the more beautiful by the oddities of life itself. What I contemplated in a hero, what I envied in the knight-errant or the highway cavalier, what I wondered at in the rich duke, what I smiled at in the poor but happy artist, or contemplated in the growing of a poet, all of romance and all of adventure, all of continuous heights and activities of a life that flows without a worry or a moment of grief — all of variety and wonder of war and of love — all of youth is now within my reach and ready to be moulded in my hand. Were I to desire the hanging gardens of Babylon or the electric metallic marvels of Mars, I could invent and realize them almost immediately — so has my self-confidence grown with the help of war — the great electrifier, that banishes all stiff conventionality and stimulates passions, imaginations, free thinking and free acting, till the land of war becomes a land of living poems and poets’ dreams of anything you want to make — so supple and various does war make a country.

I have thought so much about this aviation that I have no more thoughts left on it, excepting now and then, coming out of the metro, for instance, into the midst of green foliage and cabs, smart gowns and smiling Oriental women at the Madeleine, I feel that it is more for me and that I am almost a Greek Marathon hero returning to the laurels and rose-strewn paths of welcoming, pleasure-giving Athens ; or else when I notice a mother in black gazing at me, or a decorated soldier inspecting me, I already instinctively turn to their eyes the little part of my uniform over my heart, where the golden insignia of a pilot-aviator shall soon be glistening when I become one of that fraternity of MEN.

Now and then, too, I realize that it is a heavy task for a boy who has always been fondled. That for me to make a big machine hang just right, twelve thousand feet above solid ground isn’t going to be such an Arabian dream as I may now contemplate. But my brain is very much shrunken up and lazy these days, as I am pretty much of a loafer, scribbling off some weak drawings, walking self-consciously down the street, and lacking a great deal of serious occupation. The hard work ahead at the Aviation School will do me much good and the concentration of flying will keep up the turning speed of my brains, acquired by the work at the school. Just now I am going to dig in hard and draw like a demon, hour in, hour out, for a couple of days. That will help, and besides it’s got to be done.

Paris is bad when you’re broke. Its pleasure-reflecting monuments and houses and people are no good as an inspiration to your imagination unless you are part of it or unless you have lived here steadily and can forget New York enough to consider Paris a city with all its excitement instead of a beautiful garden.

The country, then, is better for a poor man’s brain. It has gigantic night scenes and infinite day scenes.

Ah ! well, there’s lots ahead. This is just a little lull, a sudden drop from a week that was extremely fast and tickling. I regret its pleasures muchly, not being willing to shrink into the "coutumier et bourgeois" surroundings of Passy and quite out of place, therefore lazy, unappreciative, and unimaginative. I think I’d die if my imagination died before I did. It’s what makes the world seem good to me.

I saw Carlos the other day for the first time. He could hardly speak, and myself — I was somewhat silly. He is just as modest, if not more, for the poor boy has been through as bad a three months as one could wish. I found him a skeleton and much worn. But he’s all right now and just as good-hearted as though he were ever the same kid at rue Notre Dame des Champs.

Passy is a funny quarter — a mixture of semi-poor and semi-rich. It’s awfully out of the way and only has the advantage of looking over the Seine from one street. But oh, it’s always Paris, and believe me, my lady, that makes every cobble-stone a black diamond.

French women remind me of collies, beautiful, Oriental, and treacherous. They would make great butterflies too, and sometimes a blue jay or just a simple every-day egoist. Most of them are intelligent, but they spoil it with a lot of jabber which is supposed to be the modern representation of what used to be French wit in the time of Louis XIV. Of course, I don’t know many of the high-brows as yet, but when I shall, I don’t think I’ll be surprised at my opinions.

Paris is a beautiful series of étoiles, monuments and amusements, but it is n’t a city and has none of the city’s characteristics. It is like an exposition ground grown historic. New York is the best example of a typified city of to-day. It has a wonderful current of energy and progress throughout every nook and corner and wide boulevard. Paris is very much of a summer resort with a few old buildings of much art.

There are a number of "Croix de Guerre" men of this service en permission ; their haughtiness makes me quite jealous, but I’ll come around and give them the "once over" when I shine up in my aviator’s tunic.

If I’m coming home before I train I think it would be quite the stunt to come back in my aviator’s uniform. Leave a blue light in the chimney so that when I fly back I’ll know where the house is.

The idea of a country house is wonderful ! I’ve always wanted one of those play houses where you can run the car all over the garden and make the cook mad and the crow crow. Be sure to fix up an aero shed in my room ; besides I will be no longer able to sleep peacefully unless you keep an extra loud electric fan roaring at my bedpost and making a breeze like 140 miles an hour.

But having my room is going to be far more wonderful than your having the whole house ; although I won’t be there often, I’ll enjoy immensely what few parties I will have and will keep my room always ready for intimate guests and other intimate teas.

Now see if you can tackle the very difficult job, which I cannot, of telling everybody — one and all — how I thank them and only think of them, and a few more, such as the Berlin official could invent.

After that, take all my real love for yourself, and keep it where you can use it when necessary.



August 5, 1917


I don’t know whether I ever told you how high I jumped when I received that telegram or not, but I guess it was high enough for you to see. Any recent earthquakes need not disturb you — they were only the result of my landing afterwards.

But, while we’re yet both on dry land, let me sincerely advise you not to sign up in the ambulance or the trucks or any such stuff for the duration of the war.

I think I know you pretty well, and being fully convinced that you are romantic — as really romantic as I am — I can assure you that one visit to the front will fully convince you in turn that the peaceful life of any such service is not what you would want. I say "peaceful" : I mean lukewarm ; something that is far worse.

Were it altogether peaceful, it would still be comprehensible, but is lukewarm — neither war nor peace ; just a way of touring the front with as much comfort as possible, totally undeserved.

Now I am not telling you to stay out of it by any means. On the contrary, get into it for as short a time as possible. Then when you have seen the war at a close hand and long enough to make you realize the extremes of bravery and "recompense" that war offers to youth — then get a transfer either to America and absolute peace or to France and absolute war — fighting, loving, and glory.

I am not saying this from an inconsiderate nor from a dare-devil point of view ; I am telling you that perfectly coolly, at my little table that I use for a studio and all in the heart of summer-time, wonder-time, Paris. I am also telling you that with a conscientious knowledge of the danger of real warfare. I have been under shell-fire myself, and know that in advising my dearest friend to do the such, I am also flirting with the bitter thought that I might very possibly never see him again, were he to become a real soldier and a real man.

But as I said, once you have inspected for yourself the ranks of the men of the day, you will be more capable to decide whether or not you wish to partake of their eternity.

One thing sure, though. Do not stay in America one moment longer than necessary. Come over immediately, and I shall get you into something immediately, which will soon show you that those back home are hypnotized with the vague idea that war to-day has nothing of its ancient wonders —something that will prove to you that America and peace are barren attics compared to the Arabian Nights that the present adventure of chivalry has realized on the European continent.

This something will be either the ambulance or truck or some other such touring facility that will enable you to go prospecting for inspiration and therein find the nugget of decision.

In fact, were you to remain in Paris only, distant as it may be from reality, you would not be long to decide that the curtains were going up on "Don Juan" and that it was precious time to profit of it.

Of course though, war may impress you differently — a great event has many aspects. You may possibly find more beauty in stoically dying at the wheel of your cannon than in making of war a constant spring of Youth, Adventure, and Romanticism, with the thousand varieties of the such that I find and make of it all.

Again you may prefer to develop in you what is of the greatest value to others — your Art. But could you not use your Art amongst the soldiers ? One can never foretell the philosophy of any one else. One can only guess at it, and it was on a guess that I faintly indicated to you the possibilities this conflict offers to the soul of a Byron. I hope, however, that my guess did not miss the mark, for if so, I should sincerely pity you.

When you reach France, if you come, you must arrange to see me immediately, and we can clear matters up a little, for they must be doubtlessly somewhat blurred, seeing that you are three thousand miles from the truth.

Hoping that the drill of cavalry camp did n’t leave you in an asylum too long, I am most enthusiastically,

Your pal


Do ask me some questions, if there is yet time. I have great hopes that there is not time and that we shall meet again soon.


Paris, 7 August, 1917


War is pretty hard, is n’t it ? It’s pretty hard on many mothers and sisters and sweethearts, but when it comes, it must be taken just as the other events of the world, and not only must it be taken, but it must be overcome. That requires much bravery, and now and then much suffering, but all is rewarded proportionately. According to what you shall have suffered, shall you be decorated before the ranks of all humans with the respect that is justly due you. The greater your share, the greater yourself, and I sincerely hope that you shall not shrink before the greatness that war has in store for you.

It is no ethereal theory. It is a living fact and no one in this gigantic conflict is more honored and respected and loved than the mother of a hero "poilu." it is one of my greatest ambitions to be able to attain for you those honors and those sympathies ; to make all others respect you through me, and to build for you the pedestal that befits a noble mother and a thoroughbred woman.

To-day I am happier, perhaps, than I have been before in my life. I have successfully passed the rather hard examinations to the Aviation Corps and perhaps if my work of training is equally successful, an officership which at my young age can be considered rather honorable. To be a leader in a volunteer service, where there is no test, is somewhat of an advantage, but to gain an officership in the army towards which the whole world turns is an honor that any boy of nineteen can be proud of. I certainly intend to devote all my efforts towards the such.

As I said before, I am rejoicing to-day, not as a boy returning from a long term at school , but as a man who is distinctly proud to have taken the first great step in life that shall lead him to superiority and to have overcome all primary obstacles from hesitation to examinations in the fulfilling of such a heavy task. Immediately I shook hands for not less than a quarter of an hour with my chum who also passed ; then, after ten days’ poverty, I rushed to order a new aviation uniform — the latest "cri de Paris" — and then to the Café de la Paix where I feasted on chocolate ice cream and the sympathetic handshakes of many of the friends I have gathered about me since my last return to Paris. I am not bubbling and spurting with excitement, but quietly listening to an eternal murmuring of happiness within me — a steady unfailing flow of joy and content.

To-day I received another letter from you — that zig-zag strong writing gives me the most cheer when I go through my daily mail. Your letters are all very strong and very devoted — intensified by the journey they have risked from you and America to me and France.

By the way, I passed the physical exams to-day with the highest marks. The mental exam is just to find out what kind of a boy you are, so I got by perfectly.

Ah là ! This is Wednesday. This morning I had my mental test — a cinch, but very agitating. I went up before a board of three Majors armed with a pretty stenographer. After a few questions one of them noticed how my recommend letters indicated my high standards.

"What do you think of the German submarine campaign ? "

"I don’t like it from a humanitarian standpoint, sir."

"What do you mean ?".

"I don’t approve of pirateship such as they did in their recent examples."

"What, for instance ?"

I named and explained.

"If you were admiral in Germany, would you carry the campaign out ?"

"I probably would because I would have a German mind, but myself, I would not."

"Do you approve of the sinking of the ship, leaving aside the question of the crew ?"

"I do.?"

"All right, you’ll be notified."

"Good day, sirs."

It’s all over. I await my official acceptance which I am pretty sure of getting. Of course I’m a little impatient, though. I ordered a wonderful uniform — khaki, with gold aviators’ buttons ! ! ! Just wait until you see your little boy in his aviators’ outfit standing next to his aeroplane, ready to mount the winds and review the mighty fortresses of the German lines ! Just how would you like to be shown through the hangars, introduced to the legion of heroes, and carried over the land of France at some three hundred kilometres an hour by the little boy who back in America could only dream of such living poetry !

I want to get out to training school (perhaps that does n’t sound good !) right away, but in the army you have to wait, wait, wait, and then wait some more ! I’m dying to get to work, but I may have to finish this service out yet — horrors !

Nevertheless, I’m enjoying new privileges and boasts already. I, little Jack Wright, take pleasure now and then by extending an invitation to visit the first American Aviation Camp in France, and if a special friend, I sometimes condescend to promise them a short tour in my aeroplane.

Would you like to fly around the block ? It really would be nice to spin up to New London in the aero for the week-end and bid them all the top o’ the morn — eh, what ?

I fully contemplate taking my mother up in her son’s machine and giving her a bird’s-eye view of the lines, if she drops into Paris soon.

Most sincerely and deeply affectionate towards you my very precious mother.


August 8, Friday

Just received official information of my official acceptance. I’m wild ! ! ! Will start training as soon as my papers are signed by the General or Chief of Aviation. I am wonderfully happy. I am quiet but serene.


August 8-9-10


Another letter from you ; it is so kind of you to write so often and I can only start to express my appreciation.

I regret to say that I shall not be able to return to New York before training. —I am not anxious to either, for I want to return to you a full-fledged pilot.

If you explained having a son in the war you might be allowed passage. I don’t suppose you’d want to disguise as a nurse for a while, eh ? But wait until I get home and we’ll talk it over.

I went through the Musée d’Invalides. It was wonderful, dark and secluded, in a world of glimmering swords, ancient red cloaks and flags and wild mural paintings of the glory of the past. They certainly had the right to war. They decorated up their heroes with the gold and flourish such king-adventures merit. Officers were pachas and viziers riding on inlaid saddles, all ornamented with luxury and ever living in dreams of romance and adventure, that made their wars, not a series of organized systems of defense and offense, but one glorious epic of fairyland.

The hilt of a Lieutenant’s sword contained more jewels than could be found in the possession of a Colonel to-day. The world must have been much richer — life more luxurious — philosophy less frozen, and souls more apparent in the days when l’Empereur presented Paris with the captured flags of every capital of Europe and Africa. What a pity men to-day must be so Jésuite that they cannot have rich beauty, oddity, and soul about them ; that they cannot run through their life an elevating, enchanting vein of fairyland. Thank God I can and am actually doing it — not only dreaming.

Napoleon certainly did — even on campaign. He lined his tent with a cloth like the skin of a tiger ; had long black leather map-carriers with the gold eagle and "N.," and sat in a chair of deep tarnished red leather to write on a dark mahogany table oddly carved. That alone could have made him wonderful., but he has so many remarkable sides.

Paris takes me very well, as Americans are, for the present, so popular that even the cute midinettes are enlarging their horizon on life by the broad Far West sombrero.

I am now in front of my window feasting on a semi-white apartment house of little bourgeois ; also a café for laborers and a "Bois et Charbons" sign of red and white. Pretty girls, and the rest of the population of Passy, pass before my little fancy iron railing — but it all has its parts in the whole of Paris, so I do not doubt that could I throw before you a perfect picture of its little street scene, echoing with French joy, damp and dusky, with a piece of sky overhead, I reckon you’d be very happy. ’Midst its funny barrenness sits myself, all in khaki and laziness, somewhat in dreams and hopes for the near future.

Remember me to all, and always and especially to Mr. W., my very good friend.



August 12, 1917


I fully realize that you are suffering very much and cannot resist writing you more than usual. Later on you will become used to events and will even admire them, but I can fully understand that you do not now on account of the spontaneous overflow of grief. I am very sorry to put you into this state, but I prefer giving you these moments of regret and illusion than to fail to give you absolute guarantee that I am an idealist who carries out his ideals and a poet who, more than dreaming, drifts his ambitions towards lofty goals. Were I to not live out my philosophy of life and to shrink before the call of an hitherto unknown muse of the airs ; were I to go back on my steps — would be to me a far more painful suicide than the crime I may now be committing to you.

If, above all, though, above the flow of your tears you will only let the sunshine of my deep-rooted love for you come through, a wide-span rainbow of happiness may yet dawn across such skies of storm.

In any case, clouds always clear up and then the sun is ten times brighter through its brilliant contrast. I have no doubts but that already you are feeling more of that motherly happiness that you ought to feel, just as every mother in France has the privilege of possessing.

This afternoon I went to the old haunt — the Luxembourg Gardens — where just. as the color-bedabbled crowds of Babylon used to wander through the sunshine and mingle along the streets and temples to some weird music, so the Parisians of the Latin Quarter pass on the right-hand terrace between the trees along the balustrade while the louder notes of the orchestra mingle with the distant roll of tramways.

They are either bourgeois — old and smiling, or young girls from little smart families, or from cafés, nodding to returned soldiers or listening good-naturedly to the brainless eccentricities of would-be artists who haven’t the ambition to get up and shake off their pettiness and mirage.

I also met an old school friend, now an adjutant doctor with the wounded ribbon, just as crazy as in the days. he tried to ride down Grizier’s beautiful oak stairway on his bicycle.

I loafed on a chair under the green of tall trees and while smoking nonchalantly my cigarette watched the flirtatious, good-for-nothing but very cute crowd go by.

I went to the Luxembourg, my old haunt, and found the same coffee fiends and their sweethearts enjoying love for nothing, hidden by the gardens, the one from his studies, the other from her café limelight.

Down in the bassin little children sailed their yachts and bumped into you, officer or general, if you did not get out of their way, for their yacht was full bent for the brink of the pond and they would n’t take time to think about other people’s nerves or wars and stuff. The donkeys still took other kiddies riding along the sunbaked walks bordered by hollyhocks and statues, and now and then a beautiful mother smilingly watched the future play, whilst up on the terrace the crowds of Babylon passed in haught and splendor and nothingness.

Once I was amused — a madman called the terrace crowd and started on a speech of his Arabian Nights. The crowd gathered like bees and butterflies and insects, until an old guard, realizing that his dignity and the authority of the law and the state had been trespassed, energetically expelled the madman by little mad gestures.

The madman walked to the gateway, proud, and calling to his disciples and the laughing children ; once outside he started his speech all over again, but the "infidels" had vanished, so he discouragedly strode away.

And thus the Latin Quarter around the Pantheon goes on— everlastingly brainless, now and then cute, and rare times sympathetic in its heart-to-heart love affairs, but everlastingly brainless, exaggerating, studious, unenergetic, unambitious, unattaining, mad, but nevertheless quiet and happy. It has not seen enough of the world. Sometimes a big man is found there, but only because he will be undisturbed by traffic and a lack of strolling possibilities when outside of his work room.

Little does he care for the buzzing of the daily voices about him and little does he partake of them or belong to them. Fabre, Reclus, Bourdelle, they are all there and yet they are not there. It is because the stagnancy of a dead pond is less distractive to the thinker than the silver flow of Italian lakes, such as represent the smooth luxury of hotels and valets in the Étoile Quartier.

Paris is thick with the varied uniforms of every nation in Europe ; it is a grand parade of uniformed heroes —and nationalities.

I enclose you a poem or two, but they don’t mean anything, less than fanciful notes ; since I have n’t concentrated for three months.

I expect to do fine in the aviation even though my real work will be reserved until after the war, for the wear of war work will be too hard, I fear, to give much extra time for anything but distraction and severe duty.

I will send you some more poems later, but as it is late now, I shall retire and wait for the superlative later.

With these tender considerations for you that you can ever find in me —

I am most affectionately your son



Paris, August 18, 1917


Not yet off to school, but in the midst of many balancing complications.

I am now guard on the fourth floor of the Aviation Headquarters. Nevertheless I have much company : two little boys, Scouts, continually talking about everything in their kiddish lives, and now and then the Boy Scouts of the whole building — kids about twelve — gather around me like kittens and puppies. One of them draws remarkably and is very quiet. Doubtless a future artist.

They fixed me up a table with a blotting pad, roller, pen, pencils, ink, and a letter sorter during my absence and showed it to me when I came back as children about a Christmas tree.

It is a very new white building I am in ; one of the type of new French apartment houses, with outpoints and inpoints, fanciful decorations, various windows, arched and rounded, cherubims, playing along the balconies — with wreaths of marble — all very white and sparkling in the sunshine. You know Paris is not a city of gray days, but one most at home in the sunshine, for a city is not characteristic in the weather that predominates in its climate, but in the weather that is most in tune with the city’s architecture and the customs and occupations and pleasures of its people.

What better than sunshine would be in tune with the happy, pleasure-loving, "insouciant" gay Parisian architecture and people and gardens ?

Now and then a French aviator comes up the stairs — often American ones. Messengers trip up and down continuously. Clerks, typewriters, "stenogs." Multitudinous rooms are continuously buzzing — those are the American Aviation Headquarters.

In the early morning a few workmen start to brush around and stir up the drowsy dust of night, while one by one the neat "stenogs" climb the long spiral marble stairway. At night they start putting on their hats a quarter of an hour early, vaguely smiling at their friend the clock, while the workmen have all disappeared. A few serious men make the typewriters count out endless papers on papers, all for the few at the front, until the house of Headquarters is deserted to its former peace and Parisian surroundings.

I have a few books to read and the hopes that I’ll be in some kind of a job other than sitting still all day in front of a door.

I suppose by now you are well back in New York fretting about the heat, the war, your son, and the rest of the world. Please don’t fret. Just get some facts from a good source and sit down and reason it out like a man. You’ll find that things are all for the best. They always have been ...



19 August, 1917


Much to my pleasure I have just received your letter some days ago.

I gave my mother a pretty exact and impartial judgment of the American Field Service. It is monotonous, fatiguing without offering genuine work. I have brains and energy so I guess that my change was all for the good, and I certainly hope that you realize it. Although it may be the breaking of me, it will, if I last out, be the very finest making of me. Of course, you who are still in America and therefore hypnotized by three thousand miles distance from the actual front do not realize that of the whole war only one little strip of land and the sky above it are actual war ; the rest is not dangerous and differs in no way from the work going on around the dock quarters in New York City, excepting that there is more idleness and less, far less, variety and brains.

The trucks consist of one part loafing around camp and the other part driving over the same roads in the same loads and the same sleepy, banging, greasy routine. I don’t mind the dirt or the work, except that it is of weak results for such energies as a red-blooded boy may have, to be turning out. Otherwise things are excellent, such as the food, the quarters, and the spirit and the boys.

I am not spending too much money, although I may go beyond my allowance ; that is because laundry, clothes, etc., oblige one to spend more than at home, especially as things cost more. A shirt at home (white, soft) cost me $1.50 at the most ; here it costs (of the same goods) $4.00.

The field outfit does not need to be dressy, but it must be respectable, as one is constantly meeting people and receiving invitations almost as at a summer resort. That may not be fully necessary to a soldier, but it’s very pleasant. Then in Paris one has to be quite dolled up. Even the American troops are getting fancy —like the French —and will soon, like their allies, use corsets and powder-puffs.

But why tell you very specifically about the American Field Service. I am no longer in it. I am between two services. Although enlisted in the American Army, I am not yet at the Aviation School, but translating military books in an office at Headquarters. At first I was a door-keeper. Altogether, I’m having quite a rush time and political campaign getting out of the one into the other. It’s as exciting as a day in court.

The service I am going into I know nothing about, excepting that after three months’ training at an American Camp in Southern France, I will fly over the front as a First Lieutenant — if I pass all the exams. First they give you a bombarding or observing machine — more dangerous than a duel machine, but less dangerous than school training. Then, if you’re good, you get the privilege of running a duel boat. About six months from now, say, I ought to get a leave back to see you all and have the pleasure of making you all salute me, unless, in the meantime, I’ve joined the "other" fifty per cent of the aviators. I only hope, whatever the risk, that I will find the necessary "guts" stored in me somewhere to fight it out to the last round ; then I shall be happy.

Mr. C. has doubtlessly informed you of his luck at getting to war. When I last saw him —yesterday — he had just received his stripes and was like a kid — bubbling over with joy and curiosity and such general good feeling that he handed me out two hundred francs as soon as I mentioned it. (This may sound as though he sometimes objected. He is very nice about it and never refuses ; I prospect asking him for a few thousand next time — he’d give them to me.)

Mother’s letters slightly tickle my vanity — that’s why I like to get your sound, business-like notes now and then, so I hope you won’t forget me when a couple of months go by and just send me a few lines in between your office hours, which I have always respected, inasmuch as I have never worked myself.

I have received everything that has been sent, including the luxurious menus (real fortunes) and the silent, but half decent good wishes of Tee and (permit me to include him) Imp.

Give my love to both of them — the beloved little Cain-raisers.

I am most respectfully



Paris, France, August 21


Well, I’m not off for aviation training yet. It is most exasperating. It is enough to drive a man crazy. I just puff, blow, burn, and foam all day long, agonizing for aerial flights and compelled to make out office blanks and scratch out files, etc., from 8.30 A.M. to 6.30 P.M.

Most of the time I have nothing to do, but must sit on a chair with about as much brain matter on the horizon as a stuffed animal, inanimately gazing out of a case window, in the spotted, dappled skin that once used to leap wild forest chasms and pant at the lapping waters of bottomless pools. But —out with the such ! I am now a private, a number, and must consider the dullest, meanest, most monotonous jobs as wonderful staircases in the palace of Romance. I expect within four months, though, to be better off, by a good deal, and within a few weeks to be much better off, for then I’ll be learning to fly, just like a baby bird, though still a human ; learning to fly, to go through the metamorphose of growing wings, of feebly trying them out, and of finding soon, shading my human frame the mighty stretch of an eagle’s wings ready to carry my human soarings to the heights of their realization. Yet in the midst of such dreams here I am writing out the orders of a private !

I suppose, though, that I should make use of it all and make a wonderful poem of it, or an O. Henry article. (To think that most of his work was done in the stupidity of a cell room !) Or even write a story of it all. But there again is the difference between a man that counts, and a kid of nineteen. Nevertheless, I reproach myself, in the midst of all this tediousness, for not having the initiative to make my very tediousness into something great. Perhaps, if I reproach myself long enough, I’ll succeed. I’ve made a good percentage of things out of reproaching myself.

I am living at a little hôtel on rue Vaugirard, next to the hôtel Foyot, where I would have stayed, but that it was temporarily closed. This hotel takes quite a bunch out of my allowance, but it is preferable to flea-bitten French barracks where everything decent is immediately stolen. I eat breakfast about eight in the early Parisian sunlight that warms the sleepy faces of the cart-draggers and penetrates lazily along the café table where an equally sleepy face of an orderly is choking down black coffee with some bread. Then I take the metro to my new address. There a table in the secretary’s office awaits me with a smiling rose-colored blotter, red ink, black ink, forms, files, and plenty of nothing-to-do. Outside a few autos snort — staff cars under the avenue trees and windows. Inside Majors and Lieutenants make you rise to attention every time one of them crosses the hall to inquire about the health, children, appetite, maladies, tooth-powder, and military affairs (perhaps) of another of them. There I sit, a true school of patience and a model petrified to any sculptor’s delight. At 1 P.M. I stop sitting and with such brains as have n’t exhaled during the long session, I go to déjeuner. That takes place at a little round table on the sidewalk where an apache girl waits on me crossly behind a few bushes.

Some English airmen gather there and talk. They are only clerks usually. Now and then a pretty maid drops into a chair beside me (not with me !!!). Now and then no one is there. I usually smoke a cigarette (being off duty) after two dishes of a dessert comprised of stewed gooseberries and whipped sour cream.

Then I walk around the block, take in more sunshine, more air, more faces, more Paris : its bridges and towers and trees, and then come back to the smiling rose-colored blotter and the blanks and files. Oh, such room for a soul !

Well, after 6.30 P.M. I do have a pretty good time. I feel office-worn and that feeling makes all rest a pleasure. I take the metro to the Odéon ; imagine, mother, the Odéon ! How would you like to get off the subway at a station called Odéon or Maine or Opéra or any of those sweet cellars which lead up to a burst of sunshine and styles and flowing ease and pleasure and quiet moving scenery of Paris ? Well, I drop into a little leathered-cushioned café at the carrefour de l’Odéon and there as the lights come on gradually, I sit and restfully eat a long meal on a hungry stomach, while a few artists make the place familiar — a few deputies or business men make it clean and respectable and a few pretty Parisiennes with their delicate bows make the whole of a "smiling atmosphere," as my futurism at its extremes might say.

Then, with a heavy reposing digestion silently under way, with the extra pleasantness of another cigarette, I make my way, a hand in one pocket, chamois gloves in the other hand, lazily towards the Boulevard Saint-Michel and the Luxembourg, a true inhabitant of the Latin Quarter. And you have to be a "true inhabitant" to enjoy it.

When I had money, when I was just back on leave, I came to the Quarter and found it pretty, for it was a reminiscent — but no more ; its poverty and pettiness bothered me. Now those two things it possesses are dear to me. Everybody is poor like myself and therefore chats with me without the expectation of a party or an auto ride ; everybody is friendly and good-hearted and all in bad luck.

Immediately the Luxembourg Gardens, where artists and students and models roam, the little rues and the boulevard or two, the old senate house, black against a sad evening sky, the cabs rolling in silence on their rubber wheels, the milkmaid, the flower girl, the statue you always see before going into the hotel, the old proprietor, all these objects of pettiness, but of a pleasant and sincere sympathy to the extent their little brains and souls permit, all the café-haunters and garden wanderers, and sometimes even the respected silent gods, distinguished and envied by their red rosettes at the buttonhole, become dear friends of hard luck, but of good cheer just the same.

Well, by then it is about nine or earlier, the night has come, and I have entered into my little room, payed the proprietor and asked to be called at 7 A.M. A last cigarette, a poem of Verlaine for a prayer, and I am sleeping off in about as much empty space as at the office all the long day through — hour after hour.

Thus, I live in Paris — an hour or so at breakfast — at lunch and at dinner ; otherwise I am just one of the corner-stones in one of the many white apartment houses that dumbly yawn their bay windows in the Paris sunlight, but that yet help to make it all a wonderful metropolis. I resign myself to my fatal part of a dumb animal in the mighty theatre of the war, but with the hopes that my sixth letter from this one will bring you the joyful expectancy of getting ready to leave Paris and boredom for the country and airdom.

The picture you sent was not me. We do not have bayonets in the trucks and never go on parade. We are not soldiers and not ornaments.

But, thank Heavens, the present case of "to be" does not apply here. I can only say I was so and so in the trucks. I gloriously cast them away from me forever. They only have two decent things about them to be remembered — they brought me over here for one and the luxurious English pasture in front of my trailer at camp for another.

Now I lay me down to sleep — that is back to the smiling rose-colored blotter and the gray-blue walls of the office.

Most humbly


In the glorious service of his country ; God save America !


August 22, 1917


I feel somewhat better towards this office drawling. Perhaps it won’t last over two weeks and who couldn’t hang around that long !

If one is overwhelmed with work it takes volonté to see it through, but then your work inoculates you with a certain desperate go and energy to rush it through by day and night ; such a victory is decidedly a test in a man, of course, and one to be proud to impose on one’s self, but to meet the test of doing absolutely nothing but sitting still for two weeks is a test far greater and one that I consider as mighty good for one and myself.

It will depend entirely on my own brain to distract the long hours away, and perhaps I can even make the hours profitable, if I sit down and think up a problem to think out again. What more suitable occupation for a bellboy than to tie up knots and then to untie them again ?

When I do get down to camp, I’ll have to make good, through the series of exams (not easy either) or I’ll be having to wash windows till the war’s over.

.My chum is so grouchy about being held up with me this way that he can’t talk, so it makes me feel quite optimistic. Anybody always makes you feel the opposite unless you’re mighty good friends.

We’re out for a cheaper room Sunday (if we get it "off," for we don’t always) and perhaps we’ll rent bicycles to save carfare.

To-day I get my uniform — U.S. private. The coat —supposed to fit tight —comes down to my knees and up to my ears. I have n’t dared to try the rest on, but am ordered to to-morrow. How Paris will enjoy me ! Thank God it’s only for about four months and three and one-half of those out in the country — hidden carefully from all pretty eyes and respectable "salons."

Thank Heavens, Bill is getting into aviation too. He will go into training next week. Just now he is shovelling coal for the American Field Service. I’m glad to see him get into the war with the rest of us, as he has n’t seen much so far. Some of my school-mates are already in Flying Camp.

Paris is bathing pleasantly, contentedly in its last months of sunshine, for in October all is cold. Everybody seems happy with life in this metropolis where no work, traffic, or noisy bustle is noticeable.

A badly wounded man or a girl in mourning, crying while driving her street car, now and then reproach your smile if you’re a civilian, but if you’re a soldier, they make you proud and if you’re an aviator (which I’m in the hopes of being) they make you feel like a god, to know you’re out for their vengeance.

This office work sure does teach you to enjoy the freedom of spare hours, their out-of-door sunshine, the width of the avenues, the common people, happily, leisurely working about their little stores, and all the many little things that a man without many wonders and luck soon takes pleasure to discover.

But I’d so much rather be in the trenches.

You must understand that from now on, all my letters are to be censored — since I am not permitted to seal them and since they go through the Service’s censorship always. I will not even be allowed to tell you where I am, and a number of mutual whisperings will have to be cut off, in view of the fact that they would become public.

One of my "camion" pals just jumped into the office, back from training camp ! He had aviator buttons all over him and a new outfit, boots, uniform, and everything of that wonderful and only tenue — the tenue that makes people look up to you at every step you take, at every one you glance at.

His face was a little more set and his smile a little heartier — already he was the beginning of one more of those BIG MEN that the war alone has been able to turn out, one of the Grand Legion. He was as happy as a king, but rather upset because for the first time he had seen an accident —yesterday. A couple of boys met in mid-air and were buried far underground. One, a sailor, was just on the point of receiving his diploma and lieutenantship.

All this has again made me impatient and made me prouder to stick through this nightmarish office period.

I’m like a chained colt with a race track just out of reach.

Just you wait till I get my pilot-ship. I’ll show them they’ve misjudged me, if I can’t prove it now. All will come out good ; it must. I feel that I can make things succeed and do as good as any one. I always have.

You see, I’m not boasting ; I’m just giving you the course of my intimate thoughts.

This is a funny letter. Every second the door opens and every time the door opens I must bob up my head to see if it’s an officer, etc., which requires the bobbing up of my whole self, to attention. I’m sure learning what the army is —so much that I consider myself bold if I ask any one in the street the time, without bowing a few times, or if I call a taxi without standing at attention to the chauffeur.

The army is awfully funny ; but it will be very grand for me soon.

Last night we had a grand celebration. A friend of Jack’s had dinner with us at the Latin Quarter where we latter are living. We introduced him to the famous Quarter and he grew white with fear that at any street corner nude Bacchantes would turn up.

We had a feast at a little restaurant I like considerably ; a feast of melon, beefsteak, French-fried potatoes, whipped cream and fruit. It was glorious. We were spending money gluttonously and dionysianacly. We were giving the friend some banquet — some treat, some sight. To wind up furiously, we had a cup of coffee at the Taverne du Panthéon (now dead excepting for a friend or two). Then we showed him our sweets at the "Grand, Grand, Hôtel-Château." There we read O. Henry, instead of listening to a fair one miss notes on the piano, and having laughed and smoked the hours away until midnight (horrors !) we went to bed much disgusted that the maid wouldn’t get up in the middle of her sleep and cook us chocolate.

I felt after that celebration as happy and as dizzy (I don’t mean any liquor !) and excited as I have felt after any of the merry-go-roundiest parties at — from the Biltmore or the Domino Club to the Café de la Paix — yet during the whole evening we spent no more than $3.50 for the three of us, including everything.

To-day I am reading the strongest novel in history, "Madame Bovary" (Flaubert), a book which I bought five years ago, but towards which I have never felt intelligent enough to tackle. I am only reading it now, much against my wish, because I might not get another chance very soon.

In between the paragraphs I sketch the people that come in to interview the Secretary I’m working for, and all along I gather and often jot down little notes which will all help in some later work or other.

It is very interesting, not only as an office, nor even as an office of urgent military affairs, but more yet as an office that tends only to matters of the greatest work on earth — AVIATION. The boys that come in have faces either of fools or heroes and they know what they are signing up for. The men that come in are already decorated multiply from the various armies they represent. Now and then a few peculiar stenographers orother insignificant people make you smile as the Secretary takes care of their individual, remarkable, unique qualities — not from experience, perhaps, but hiddenin the heart — you know — one after the other in the same elegant fashion of quietly, optimistically discharging them.

Good-bye for a while, mother.

With my best love to all my friends and my bestus love to you.


It seems that in the Field Service or at the Y.M.C.A. I should meet every one I had ever said good-bye to. Last night I met my history "prof " who has just left Andover. Even the memory of history classes seemed good and slightly home-sickening, but only for a second. The only scene that makes me homesick longer than a second is that of you — on the chaise longue — three thousand miles away.




1 September, 1917


It has been four months of continuous change in life ; new adventures, new hopes, and new inspirations that have separated me from the unforgettable day on which I left you on the dock in New York. If you have not been able to join us on account of a duty — more silent but none the less admirable — I can at least express to you, through my hearty appreciation, the uplifting, graduating work Andover has sent us to, on the battle-fields of France.

At first we were satisfied with automobile service, but in continuation with that same spirit we had cultivated back on Brothers’ Field, we, as a majority, have joined the American Aviation with the ambition of representing the place we came from, to your complete satisfaction, for though a third of a year and three thousand miles away, we still take pride in saying, after a good piece of work, " I guess Al would be pleased at that !"

If any of the fellows left behind inquire about us, do tell them that we not only talk of them while eating a meal at the front, or joke of those days while greasing the cars, but that we go still farther and hope to renew old college days by the stronger bonds that come with days of real life and action. Tell them that we are standing all in a row on the shores of France to cheer the boat that will bring them where they have the privilege of being sent. I say a privilege, for since we have been over here we have learned to sympathize with more than the "Rah-rah" side of life, and to perfect our first comprehension of the words you endeavored to brand us with.

We thank you for it — for the foreword you gave to this larger outlook ; for the warning, the guiding, the inspiration we owe you.

It is only my sincerity that makes me write so straightforwardly, thanking you. It is only my sincerity that makes me write so nakedly. It is true American thanks, straight to the point.

It would be foolish of me, in fact, to attempt to circle around metaphors and figures to tell you how, at the front posts, in the barracks, all alone, we have remained true students and have not forgotten the direct and sincere help that you have given us for some four years of critical days at school, some four years, every day, from the chapel pulpit or the office desk.

Some of us are more than just grateful, and I take pleasure in realizing that I, with them, owe a very deep-rooted inspiration of the various forces and elements of the world to your talks from the chapel platform, as well as a very substantial and generous help to me from the office desk.

You have been to me a cherished principal and one of the few men for whom I would do anything. I hope in the future to consider you as a friend. It is the hope of all the little band of students who now look back to what gave birth to our present happy duty. It is because these thoughts were deeply rooted within me alongside a few other undying incidents of my youth, that I have taken the liberty to write you plainly and freely as though I were an intimate. It would not be irrelevant to add that half the Andover Unit is now in training and shall soon be the "Commissioned Flying" Andover Unit in the service of America, just as in former wars.

This letter may sound haughty, but it is not of us but of Andover and what you turn out that I am so proud.

Endeavoring to express the good cheer of all the Unit and wishing you to accept my brief thanks for what you have stood for, to me, I am

Most respectfully


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