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Letters of Jack Morris Wright 2/3

Article du 23 mars 2012, publié par PO (modifié le 23 mars 2012 et consulté 6284 fois).

Paris, September 1


Who for one summer, at least, has managed to spend her vacation in the country, now and then a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, thereby fully retiring from the usual routine of the year, so as, within the refreshing, isolating arms of some country cottage, to become completely renewed and almost foreign to the city. Why, one week after you will have been back to New York you’ll not realize you ever saw a green tree, or a so-called shady brook. And that is the way you obey the prescriptions of your son. What a patient ! Luckily I am not the family doctor.

Mr. S. has just found me after wandering from one headquarters to another, thoroughly seeing Paris (very pleasant !) and winding up with the grand finale of the big spiral stairway of Aviation Headquarters, which politely, at every floor, opens up a way into some fifty different offices. Well, he invited me out to the cinema.

I’ll expect to be out to training camp by the first week of September ; either that, or suicide, or a rash adventure into society’s gabbling with a few of my introduction letters or something half as red as this ink — I don’t know exactly.

Your last letter has just arrived with a full gust of autumnal winds tossing browned leaves around silky dresses of midinettes and pulled down hats of business men. The summer’s last sun splashes across the Champs Élysées, around the Étoile, and sprays of it sift through the twining clusters of trees. Streaks of limousines in khaki or gray pass up the silent, stylish avenue and back again toward the Place de la Concorde where taxis make a little more racket, so as gradually to introduce you to the hum and buzz and more frequent passing of friends and officers of the Madeleine and the Café de Paris which quite eclipses the Opéra and is the main step-stone between the Madeleine and the beginning of the end : Montmartre.

Your letter, then, of August 7th, arrived under favorable omens. but it is not the first dionysian blowings of autumn, nor the happiness of Paris that convinces me that it is the best letter that I ever received from you. I’ll take it up point by point, perhaps with prejudice because once decided on my philosophy it would take a harder blow than a letter to change me.

First, I did receive and most certainly did enjoy the one hundred francs you sent me on my birthday. I am delighted that you thought of me so promptly, for it came exactly on permission time and many were the "cafés au lait," the "fiacres," the "promenades" that it afforded me through summer-time Paris.

I do not underestimate what I am doing. Vanity has always been one of my blessed qualities. You, rather, overestimate me, inasmuch as you cannot see the reality of things. When I was leaving America, I, too, had the idea that the "camions" were a terrible work. I’ve found out since then that it is not up to my qualities. (Just listen to that vanity ! you who say I have none. Feed upon such an outspread of it !)

You speak of the benefit of having contact with the simplest and the most monotonous, so as to learn it. I think that for the last three months I’ve had as much of it as possible. Monotony has some beauty, perhaps, but you have to be mighty irregularized and occupied to see it.

I intend not to take either spiritual idealism or romantic idealism, but to take both and live life completely. The two cannot be done together ; they must be distinct epochs — one the epoch of youth, the other the epoch of manhood. One may tend to overlap and destroy the other, but I intend to separate them distinctly by the blessed medium of work — a pool into which man can ever plunge and come out new and refreshed. If I win, I will have found a bit of new philosophy, which — not contenting itself with one grand ideal of all life — takes all the beauty life contains and makes man perfect in his complete absorption of all existence. If I lose, it is the sacrifice of myself. It is all somewhat of a chance, but what great reformers, Luther, Calvin, etc., ever took up their ideas without the consciousness that they might get their heads cut off to punish with.

Outside of all that "deep stuff" there is the simple fact that I don’t expect to last long in this new game ; so why not ? I mean — so why not experiment ? Everything is a chance that’s worth while. Of course, though, I want you to understand that I am far above some of your superstitions.

My ideas are not so stingy as they may seem, for if I succeed, I will give a better philosophy to those whom I come in contact with ; at least if I write, it will be much improved by my experience and therefore able to send out its word. But I don’t like to talk much about the writing, for I’d soon be all talk and no work.

I don’t find any trace of Diriks, and am very sorry, as he is not only a friend, but one who could have a lot to show and tell me. Please send me his address and I’ll buy him all the bottles of whiskey in Paris.

I’ve seen Mrs. B. and Mrs. S. lately ; both were very nice to me.

The money you make on your Beaux-Arts School for charity fund — if sent to me, would be given out directly to those many biting cases I constantly find at the front and often behind the lines. It would be more appreciated — more certainly spent towards urgent relief work and would be more satisfactory to you, to know personally and intimately the corners into which you have sent great aid for great need. It would be interesting to you and your friends to receive news of the individual use made of the fund, which, not being enormous, could be better used in that way. I might even photograph the different cases and you could have an album of your relief .

What dentist should I go to ?

If I don’t get out of here soon, I’ll take a little hut in the country and go out there every night. I’ll have a couple of fellows out there with me, my paints, books, and writing —all in the midst of autumnal golden Meudon or Bellevue ; I’ll have my little vegetable garden, a pot of geranium flowers in the window, with a yellow cur to bark at me when I get home and a fattening cat to claw at my sleeve and whine while I eat. I guess it will be cute, and I might get a piece of work done outside of office hours. The country is much better when you’re broke anyway.

With my tenderest regards



September 3


Well, I just fainted when I got your letter answering the news of my going into —aviation ! I expected a cable disinheriting me or a tube of deadly poison at least. A time-pose bomb or a tear-moistened epistle or a funeral ode would not have surprised me at all. As it was I just blew into a very big balloon and burst ! But now, something great — I’m off — off to fly ! Off in a cloud of dust ! ! !

At last my chains are broken — monotony and the rest of the long office hours are under my feet ; I breathenew life from a new breeze in the air. The sun is brighter and the world larger and I feel greater than all together. Now I start my big life. It’s the beginning of all I am to be in the world, and I can feel myself going ahead all ready. Things have become amenable to me. I no longer shall awe at the factors and forces in the world, but free from all ties of conventionality or defects, I shall be able to handle perfectly all the forces the world puts together. Of spiritual or material beings I have a full right to seek the command, and thanks to work, I shall certainly arrive at something.

From now on I’ll not only feel happy, but very happy, no matter how barren the aviation camp gets—no matter whether it dries up and the ground cracks — whether the trees die and I never get a leave —no matter what happens — there’s always much ahead for me and also overhead.

You see, I’m going to stick to aviation after the war. I’ll get a superintendent’s job and write at the same time. I’ll have to do quite a bit of studying, though.

Now, since I have not done any art for about four months, I feel that it was all a dream of childhood, but I count that a little work and study will put me back — a little brain work to wake me up and then a few sensations.

Now you, too, are going to feel some new joys, those that my new letters will bring you. I’m not going to keep a diary—just a notebook so you’ll hear more fluently of my days of which not a one shall have a dull hour. Can you imagine a more wonderful realization— not a dull hour in such a dull world ! I guess Isadora would rather jump at that and you — and who not ?

But there’s one thing lacking and that’s you. Now stop and think how you can get over here, because I want to see you — is n’t that plain enough. What more of an excuse could you invent ? I want to take you up in my aeroplane. Paris is starting the royal season of autumn, enough crisp in the gay sunshine to make people walk snappier and smile brighter — a crisp "pep" in the air and everything running to perfection — "leaves of soldiers" — the war and the friendships.

Some recent mournings are the only trouble. Much love


P.S. One of the most tickling sensations I could have would be popping off one of those "saucisse" German observation balloons. I’ve always looked at their eggy forms up in the air and always wanted to get at one. How I’ll enjoy it !


Paris, September 5, 1917


I long very much for some intelligent friends. This life of college boy without studies is funny for a week. The week has passed. I need some artistic friends of my own age to go with, to discuss and adventure with — to laugh and work with. I must somehow gather them around me, but it is hard.

American boys when they are artists are fine. They have energy, soul, infinite fantastic desires, quick thought open wide, and an originality that they delightfully turn into some new school — some mystic piece of oddity that always makes them wonderful.

Look at H. — a good society boy when he needs must be — ready to joke over the tea-cup or with the elevator boy, but always a fine deep shaft of art, of originality, of a worship of a school mingled with ideals — always a fanciful floating of images that pick out the biting bits of sentiment, and in turning them into art, make his company interesting — you are always conscious of it.

Look at Dick always paddling through the stormy clouds, châteaux towers, prisoners, princesses, highway robberies, of the moyen âge mixed with a delight of the rush and style of to-day — he is a continuous germ of romance and yet a vital boy — not a dreamer — a boy who is doing something and has the stuff in him — he is the artist friend again, but not the dreamer.

Look at L. — psychological, sees ideals of color all around him, thinks, while he’s on a visit —obscure and shut up in dreams of color — yet material at the same time, a sport through and through — a sturdy American boy.

These French kids have dreams continually. They are effeminate and ephemeral. They totter —they’re not strong enough to realize their dreams — they’re not men. They can’t be sturdy friends. They’re not manly and energetic. They seem so hopeless that they can’t be much, nor amount to much else. They need sports like a sick man needs medicine. They need something to straighten them out.

What am I to do then ? Continually spread out my thoughts on fool’s laughs and dallying appreciations, or shut myself up in solitude or fall in love and think some simple girl knows what I’m talking about ?

You want to know something of my aviation program ? I have told you much already. I can’t tell you very much more on account of the censor, but here is a general idea of it which is public and permissible to tell : —

I go to training camp in the most beautiful country of France, this autumn. After three months’ training — proportional to weather conditions, I will know all about aeroplanes, motors and tactics and fighting. I will have passed semi-final and final exams and will be a full-fledged aviator pilot. with the grade of a First Lieutenant of the U.S. Army in whose service I will be.

I am enlisted now as a private for the duration of the war and will not get my stripes for some three months, when I am sent to the front to fly.

First let me tell you that the worst part of flying is learning it. If I get through school I will feel like a dog getting through his adolescence.

Now, there are different types of machines, but they can be divided into two classes. At first you are sent into the first and most dangerous class ; then if you are wanted and are capable you are sent into the second class, with the aristocrats of the game.

First class : Bombing machines, biplane or triplane, large wings.

Observation machines, large wings.

Liaison machines, large wings — the latter used in direct contact with the advance of the infantry to foretell the ground and the enemy’s forces during the attack.

The first class is at the mercy of the more speedy, one-place, fighting machines that make up the second class. They have a short wing spread — a place for the pilot only who shoots his own gun and has the duty of swooping down on the enemy’s machines of Class I and killing their occupants and riddling up the machine with bullets. They are, of course, fired on by those of Class I, but their suppleness in manœuvring and their speed gives them the advantage of the duel. You see, the first-class machines are not meant to fight or duel or chase except in defense. Sometimes machines of the first class are protected by those of the second — the duel machines ; sometimes they fly in fleets, sometimes alone. They consist of the most dangerous service and of the less praise from the public. To receive a duel machine is almost a reward, since you then attain a right to the throne of a public hero or, in aviation terms, of becoming an "ace," with a few German machines on your list of victories that steadily increase along with medals and praise and stripes, if — if you’ve got the steel and keep your nerve.

It’s all very dangerous ; I want you to fully realize that fact, and am not attempting to hide it from you. Statistics show that fifty per cent never come back from their soarings in the skies of glory. In the offensive of Champagne, eight aviators out of ten were killed. But inasmuch as it is usually a question of brains, and cool-headedness and concentration, I think you can be fully confident in me.

One very nice thing, all my camion section is in the aviation and will all train and fly and risk together. It is wonderful to think that for three years some twenty boys who went to school together, and learned of football, studies, and jokes ; that they crossed the ocean together and disembarked on a foreign land ; that there they explored the country and cities together ; that they went into the camion service and received their "baptême du feu" together ; that after a fourth of a year of that they went to training camp and learned to use wings and smile at danger together ; that they then flew in the great war, for its duration together ; and that crossing back to America together they returned arm in arm to a wide horizon of peace — tinted with the undying warming glow of glory and stirred with the luring breezes of a successful future.

I realize fully how brave you are and want you near me to make things easier and to save you much supplementary worrying and fretting you certainly do not deserve.

Most lovingly your devoted



Tours, France, September 11, 1917 
Permitted by Censor


I don’t know just what to say to you — I don’t know just what to say to myself ! I have arrived at camp and don’t know what to make of it. At least nothing has ever made me wonder more ; so I guess it must be big and have more than a mechanical side to it ; in fact I think that like any other very deep pleasure, you can only enjoy the more as you go along.

My trip down was gay and we arrived in Tours very happy to discover ourselves so near civilization, for camp is a short auto ride from the city. It is situated on a big plain where a rare bit of woods and a few houses break the horizon. The sky occupies most everything of the view and it takes you a couple of days to get used to its brightness. It’s like being on the ocean.

The camp is large and comfortable, with German prisoners, Moroccans, Senegalese, and Annamite, to build them up and perfect them. A large restaurant-canteen with a piano is handy ; mechanics tend to the numerous machines off in the large brown hangars. Some women make the beds, cook and wash the dishes — real dishes ; while a barber, a tailor, a bath house, are all on the grounds. Most of the pupils are American ; the instruction, instructors (called "monitors") and high officers are French. With a few extras, such as trucks, ambulances, signal posts, etc., you have the whole outfit.

We get up at 5 A.M. (awful), have breakfast and get out to the field by 6.30 when we start flying until 9.30 ; you see the heat is bad for flying. Then we have a lecture until 10.30 and lunch at 11. From 11 to 3 P.M. we have absolute rest, and, believe me, we need it ! I have found out that flying is going to be not only tiring but strenuous. Every day two trucks leave for town and let you wander around Tours at your ease until 3.30 when we have "goûter." At 4 we have lecture until 4.30 ; then we fly until 7.30 and eat at 8.15. We usually climb into bed immediately afterwards ; though we can stay out all night if we wish ; but that is absolute insanity if a man does n’t intend to smash his machine up the next day.

There is more than the main field to fly on, and each field has its share of spectators which on Sunday crowd around the fences in colors of pink shirt-waists and black coats or uniforms with carriages here and there in the shade. Yesterday P.M. two nice girls came out and took our photos (being on a smaller field they could approach), which pleased us all and them too, until, by mistake, they got behind a propeller when a machine went off, which gave them good cause to blush, seeing that the propeller shoots back a whirlwind strong enough to blow you off your balance.

You have to go through numerous schools. First you just follow the movements of your pilot ; then he lets you gradually take control until he perfects you in the landing school. Landing is the most delicate of all flying. Then you go into the solo class ; then the spiral, the triangle, and finally, graduate at the end of a time proportionate with the weather, and receive your First Lieutenant’s commission.

The first few days we watched others go up ; it was interesting for the time, but we did n’t learn much. However, from the very start we have all been feeling great and a fine current of comradeship circulates as never I have seen, especially in America. You could n’t help feeling great out here, excepting that you’re continually sleepy.

The first evening I walked from the dinner table out about twenty yards to where stretched the main field, and where, forbidden sight, men came swooping down or went soaring up almost within hand’s reach. What I had found such a rare treat in the movies was now going on before my eyes in reality ; but I could hardly believe that this was actually the heroic, dreadful, sublime aviation school and that these mere boys who came joking along with their big helmets in one hand were not more than the mere puppets of actual student-pilots. Was it possible that this boy whom I had studied Latin with, and this kid, smiling in his poilu’s coat was the man of to-day, and the one on whom the Government was spending a little fortune that within a few months he might be one of those most vital single factors in the war ? That Bill was conquering the air, and that all of them could do so much was quite beyond me. But then I felt myself grow bigger ; I knew that never had I faced such danger, and yet I was not afraid. Before I had been frightened by exams, matches, people, but now I felt myself to rise above fear through the immensity of nobleness that such danger invoked.

We received our private’s uniform which gives you the feeling of ye ancient knight in armor. We received also our aviator’s uniform — leather coat, "trow " helmet, goggles, fur-lined gloves, sweater and knit hat, all of which is very imposing.

One morning the Lieutenant assigned us to a monitor. We packed into a truck with some fifteen other boys and made for one of the auxiliary fields. These auto rides are full of impression. Each boy has a face such as you would only find out of three hundred boys at school. Every face is strong-set and chiseled by Volonté and Ideals. Very few are "nuts," as the French claim you have to be, for this stuff. It is enough to set you going for a week just to glance around at those you have for companions and know that they’ll be your friends through the months of war ahead.

We got out on the field and waited for the monitor with the machine. During that time a peasant (American, by the way) brought out bread, jam, milk, and pears to us, which we ate while the gigantic sun in a disc of orange came up over the purple slate roof of a peasant house. Then one, two, and two more planes hummed through the air, came out of the tinted morning skies and shutting off their motors came gliding down, swooped over our heads and landed, some with a little jarring. The pupils gathered around their teachers and some put on their helmets for flight.

Here is a curious incident : We arrived on Friday ; I wear 13 on my wrist ; we are 13 in the class ; and I fly on machine No. 13. That’s good luck in France.

Now I have been here four days, and though the Americans are good, have seen four accidents, of which one might have proved fatal, since he cut the wings off on some trees and spiked head first into the road. They don’t let you get near the machine, though, for the sight of a friend hurt or killed would be bad for a beginner. I have a friend here who saw a double smashup and death, and he has n’t been the same since. He’s less indifferent and much more sympathetic.

I’ll rest awhile now.


I now find that I must avoid all sentimentality. Since my first whack at the controls, I have discovered that aviation, at first, in the learning, necessitates an absolute annulment of emotion, sensitiveness, imagination, etc. ; not only when two thousand metres up in space, but all day long one must cultivate low-down materialism. All one’s senses and imaginations must be dulled. Therefore I will merely sketch to you my impression on my first flight. It will be the only sentimentality I can allow myself.

Going off the ground is slowly seeing the peasant houses and yards below you, until you seem to own them as toys ; then under the setting sun you realize yourself miles up in the air, hanging in space by two thin wings and slowly progressing by the deafening motor and mad propeller, over the woodland villages blurred in the rose dusk of sunset. Your machine will dip on a wing and then rise face to the big glow of that setting sun over the infinite horizon hills. Face to this gigantic hearth of red light, you suddenly realize that the space you are floating in is a breathing medium — a vast, colossal god in whose arms you are lying as a speck in the infinite. Then it comes upon you that your wings are too small ; that the nervous whirling and pounding of the engine and propeller in front of you is a vain attempt ; that it is merely a mechanic fashioned by man, able to fail ! That it vainly attempts to rise in a forbidden world inasmuch as through the fathoms of sunset space about you are forces vast and unknown — calm now, but in a second, fiercer than any human-explored cyclones or waves or landslides ; forces far beyond those that trail around the earth and that are only the droppings-off of those main big elements of space, the ones that fashioned the spheres and the comets and the ones that can juggle and destroy the multitudinous worlds in their embrace. You feel that man cannot challenge these higher fundamentals — these unknown mediums — and that your motor that attempts constantly to rise on the little wings far above their mother earth are vain, fragile, and ready at any moment to slide, snap, and be crumpled as a bit of paper, along with you. That is the general impression I gathered through ten minutes of first flight.

A couple of dips took the stomach out of me, made my ears feel funny, and made me feel like having a bottle of extra "peppy" champagne shoot to my head. Those dips were the only positive physical sensations. Rising is inspiring ; gliding down to earth is restful after the strain, but you feel sorry when your wheels once again "taxi" you across the field.

The next day I had my second flight. Already we were allowed to take the main control, once in the air. I came down with the conviction that I could never make an aviator. My first attempt at the wheel of a car did not leave me without less than great hopes, but I felt myself impossible to ever be able to hang correctly in space and tend to all the necessaries at once, when at the slightest mistake you were finished. I was not afraid at all, but most unconfident in the least bit of a future.

However, when I got down I decided that the next time my turn came to get on my helmet and climb in, I would take that "manche à balai" and swing that machine around to the gale as I d---- pleased, making myself at home and sure, or that I would, in attempting it, break my neck. I was bent on flying or nothing. That night I impatiently slept off the few hours to 5 A.M. But it rained a little and we couldn’t go up. The next day (that’s this A.M.) I went out and waited my turn while the sun came up and separated all the clouds and prospects of bad weather. I got in, we tested the motor, and off. The sun shone bright and I said to myself as though in a hammock, "Fine day to-day ; the country will look pleasant. We’ll enjoy the trip. Ah ! We’re up. I was getting bored with the earth !" I waited for the signal. Finally, at two hundred metres, after passing over another plane, my pilot tapped me on the back. I took the controls and calmly remembered what I was to guide by. For rocking, the top of the front top plane and the horizon. For level of flight, the vertical position of the reënforcement bars up and down between the front wings. (All machines, practically, are biplanes to-day.) The weather was calm —no "bumps"—no "pockets." I was running the old boat as I had intended to — like a man. When the trip was over, the results were accomplished. Between confident running of the plane or smash-up, I had gained the former —and, believe me, how I did enjoy it. Now I must go ahead, for I have much to learn and resist and conquer, inasmuch as I intend to make an aviator.

Yesterday the men got three months’ pay and turned Tours upside down. Now I’ll do a little outside studying.

I enclose a picture of my "rookies" suit that I’ll be wearing the next few months while I’m in the learning. Afterwards, I’ll have an officer’s garb, but one starts at the beginning even in this service, and I’m glad.

Most lovingly, from your devoted aviator



September 17, 1917


I don’t know just about what you are doing now, or what a parallel your life is making with mine. Doubtless you are on the verge of something, for you could not remain idle long. As for me, I am becoming quite French ; the only time I despise them is when a "Parisienne" turns me down. I can add that the "Parisienne," therefore, don’t give you much chance to despise. They are very patriotic and receive their new allies with open hearts and open arms.

But now I am far from Paris, in the historical and aerial town of Tours. Were I to live long, I would surely gain possession of one of these low, dark, ancient houses, where crouched and heavy arches lead through corridors of mystery. However, I am not entirely exiled from civilization ; and after an early morning flight, I don my student-pilot’s badge and uniform and take a ride to town. There, cafés and theatres, though somewhat provincial, still await me, and even other welcomes, whose provinciality renders all their charm. We have a lot of them to ourselves and usually have lunch down town and pass around until flying time in the P.M. In the evening, now and then, the boys go down for a show and come back for flying, next morning. We get up at five, for early morning and late afternoon are our working hours, but the work is better than play.

Yesterday afternoon, for instance, we rode out to my class field, and as one by one our planes swooped down and awaited us, one by one, peasants of the neighborhood, a car or two from a nearby château and a flock of little birds (such as could show you the way to inspiration) crowded along the side lines and formed a gauntlet of wondrous eyes and silent admiration, which we somewhat awkwardly, but very gladly, accepted. Somehow, you know, wherever I go I seem to be crowned by some new-born halo and pass from respectful crowds to adoring arms. It all seems a dream !

Well, a few jokes mingled the crowd together. A couple of girls promised me their stockings to wear over my head when I fly, and I was soon assured of the quality of silk they would be when the girlies got behind a propeller just starting up its blast of wind. So the evening passed. I would chatter French and giggle and — well, you know. Then I would climb into the machine, the mechanics would start her up, and as Midinette and Parisette would throw some flowers at me, I would be off in a whirlwind, turn around the field and mount the air, just above their heads, waving back a temporary farewell. Then the houses would shrink ; the wheels of the plane would still be turning, but in space, would be hanging in space, mounting higher in space, dominating more pastures and roads, hills and towns, till they all seemed but petty toilings and dabblings of innumerable bourgeois. High was I ! Level with any eagle and glad to be rid of earth and its boredome, its heaviness, its chains. Then I would bank and swing ’round to the west, face with the blazing furnace of the setting sun — roaring straight into its fecund womb, sending the motor and propeller to the highest pitch of their speed and wind and thundering, feel the rush through my veins of some of the unknown ether of space, some of the forces, of the mediums far above and around, that fashion globes and meteors, feel myself a god, partly rising in potentiality, partly gaining eternity, thousands of feet above men.

Well, I would feel the "monitor" push on my back for me to come down, then a turn — the field was in sight, and giving the controls to the "monitor" who would shut off the motor, I could distinguish the crowd and the boys and the planes as we glided to earth — skimmed it and then, once again, felt its sod take hold of our wheels with its chains and once again we would rumble across the campus back to the side lines.

Next, my boy, is an unexaggerated, fact-for-fact account of an afternoon’s flying. Of course, we don’t fly every afternoon or every morning. It often rains and the barracks of young heroes become the haunts of gloomy faces, lights and pens. But otherwise, the boys are seconds. In the morning as I reach the field with the rising sun, I often think of going down to New London beach in the morning’s brisk air and early sunlight and I contemplate how it would have been to stride down to the beach for your morning flight, ’midst all your friends, instead of a bath. And such things will be true, for I’ve got good reasons to stick to aviation. During the morning, only little children, a good American lady with food for us, and some cows crowd around us, but it is all very pleasant and quiet. The little girls and boys will scramble on to our knees and chatter to us between minutes, of life and death high up in space.

We will tramp around in the wet dew, pick berries and fruit from Mother Nature and breathe in all the inspiration she can give us — the dew, ripened fruit, the grass and the air, all is saturated with morning perfume and we are happy to do our work in quiet communion with deep, silent Nature.

Then comes a ride to the barracks in a car, and we have our second meal. We eat four times a day, which is, at least, very interesting to me. Some adventure at Tours in middle of the day and a lecture or two, and we fly again in the P.M. ; and so on, the weeks through, in a continuous passing and re-passing of happy hours, gay adventures, high inspirations, and always the fine life that fine boys put together are sure to bring out.

Does none of that tempt you ? Does none of that surpass your present hours of would-be romance, would-be freedom, and would-be happiness in America ? Of course, one thing we have not. I have no time, to let my imagination wander, or my sensitiveness wallow in baths of perfume, or my poetry to murmur its symphony, or my fantastic dreams to weave their fanciful spider webs — none of that. It would be deathly poison to me, for in my new game I must cultivate a cold indifference to danger and a cold determination to conquer. Were I to let my imagination or my artistic feelings loose for one second, up in the air, I would be lost. My first flight was a passenger one, and luckily, for it just taught me in time that anyhow life was to be void for the present of all supersensitiveness.

It is a great expanse of activity, positive accomplishments, action, real dreams, adventure, romance, speed, concentration, nerve, and a wide opening for glory ; it is, therefore, through such elements as these, a horizon that no man could call an image and that no, man should be so hypnotized as not to fight to obtain. That is why I am putting it up to you.

You think it is void of Art ? My boy, IT is the Art — the living Art ; not the dream of a poem, but the realization of it ; the standing statue, the breathing masterpiece.

And later on, when I become thoroughly at home above the clouds, when I’m back in America, I’ll find more time to paint on the side, things that have never been painted, and explore with my muse the rhythm and power of regions unexplored. Secret : I intend to become the Poet of the Airs ; of course, it is not merely a question of eternal soaring ; now and then, two or three of us will get serious and mention death, but we get rid of it hurriedly, knowing that the world won’t stop turning around when we do, and the rest of the time death is the general joke of the day ; it makes us laugh, and it takes on quite a sporty disguise ; nevertheless, it is there — always present — even when I would be listening by soft feminine locks the whispering of "Comme nous sommes heureux ensemble" —just so, the next morning with the early sunrise, might I pass from such happiness forever. Therefore, in urging you, I also am warning you ; but once in the game, you’ll find that usually death serves as a stimulant to the vitality of life and daring of flying. (I distinguish life as usually understood and flying — it is exact.)

Well, think it over — form a philosophy, create a fancy, realize a necessity, do something, and then join, for I’m sure your decision would not — could not be the contrary. At least, if you are as I know you — Richard Mansfield II.

Now it’s a rainy day, the mandolins are a-tingle amongst the little military cots, and denseness of cigarette smoke makes their soft caressing of forgotten ragtime bring you back to the old, funny-seeming cabarets of Broadway. How distant they now seem ; how blurred the faces of American beauty and the lights of American gayety ; how foggy, through this cigarette smoke, here on the field in France, do those ancient symbols of peculiar joys and days forgotten come peering back at me — tempting me with homesickness, but only strengthening my desire to drink deeper of France — her joy, her sympathy — and her Great War. I am young, and Youth is here ! Now, then, it is a rainy day. I will go over to the little café across the way, see a friend aviator or two ; salute a uniform, smile at a maid or two, and with a tall glass of black coffee and a volume of Verlaine muse at the big, low hangars crouching along the field in the rain and contemplate the hour or two away until the car leaves for town.

Good-bye, and until then I’ll remember you to all the little Touraine maidens. They’ll surely want to be more than remembered to you — just because they’re French. So long, Dick, ol’ sport.



September 24, 1917


In the midst of boys coming back from the day’s flying, throwing their helmets on to their cots with their leather coats — and falling down on top of the whole or ducking under the cold water faucet —

I was interrupted by the dinner bell. Now it’s the next morning. I’m just back from the morning’s work. Now I’m practically running the old boat except for some corrections now and then on the end of the landings which are the hardest parts of flying.

Tours was lost in a fog this morning and around the two black cathedral towers but a few roofs glinted in the vague sunlight. The river ran its silver into the fog, making the whole look like a bay.

I’m enjoying flying more and more. I can’t get enough of it. Each time I come down I remain silently enraptured with its voluptuousness, for a long while, until once again it is my turn.

I feel a little shiver (for I’m still that way until the motor starts up) and then the monitor in the front seat puts his hand on the side of the bathtub, coffin, side car —whatever you will call it —gets the flag signal to leave and shakes his hand straight ahead ; I pull back on the gas lever — the motor pounds like a battery of artillery — the handle-stick (manche à balai) pushes hard on your hand and with a few manœuvres the machine is skimming the ground — leaving it — mounting higher.

We’re off some hundred yards above the ground with the wind to fight with and give "pep" to it all, for the sun is up and air pockets are frequent. They make you drop — they boost you up like a tin plate — they whack one wing and tip you —they give you a wonderful tussle.

I’ve had four and one-half hours now and will be ready for landing school in a half-hour or so. That lasts a day or two, then I’ll be " lâché" or "soloing " — sailing around by myself — visiting the château country by the third dimension.

I have just finished "Madame Bovary" (Flaubert). It is, as you know, recognized as the strongest novel in history and I have n’t gotten over it yet. It sure is a beautiful slam at the bourgeois — Flaubert’s lifelong enemies. When reading it I was happy to know that I was not a bourgeois, that I was not a feeble dreamer with dreams never realized, even completed or specified, but that just outside were the beautiful birds of paradise which I could make lead me to real idealism, and, as now and then an aero-motor would start up, it would set up a current of satisfaction through me, for I knew that I was realizing my dreams and living my art, and it all made me smile as I would return to feeble Madame Bovary and her oppressing bourgeois.

I am very tired, so I won’t write you long. I’m ashamed not to have written before, but really, we get awfully lazy and just snore all day long.

I have to go to lecture now. We smoke in there and have general discussion. It seems a scandal compared to school classes. At night we go out with the lecturers. It’s a social crime.

I’ll answer some of your questions : I had a number of very interesting war trophies, but along with three-fourths of my belongings they disappeared completely while I was "on permission."

Our studio in Paris is occupied by an "embusqué" French officer who uses it for a den to celebrate the victory in. Bright orange tapestries, black wickerwork and shining brass have turned it from a spacious chapel of work into a crowded boudoir.

I have not seen any one but Toussaint, a second, always smiling and deaf. Bourdelle I have told you about ; Madame Rose a little more cheerful and Sevastos a little more curious and simple. The concierge I paid little attention to ; the Impasse is just as dirty. A few extra dogs make it more active. The court is damp, mossy, and quiet, with the big, still studio windows opening on the blue sky.

The object of your sculpture "Call of the Clouds" seems indefinite and a call that would attract more the dreamer of fifteen who has not the books and relations to sacrifice that you say you put at his feet. If it is in view of an aviator, it is different. The idea is original and probably came from your lying on your back and gazing at those clouds whose novelty struck you, since in the city one never sees them unless on the ferryboat.

The idea is so original and startling that it can be made very powerful if given more definitism. —n’est-ce pas ?

Sculpture is already almost as indefinite as music — an indefinite subject would hurt it considerably.

But this "Call of the Clouds" interests me considerably. Since I have gone into aviation, I have been temporarily forced to abandon Art ; as a result I don’t know as much as I used to up at school, and my opinion is vague and lazy, but I do wish you to tell me the development of this monument.

Please don’t be so much of a woman as not to get interested in your interest and to not carry it out fully.

It seems an odd subject for sculpture and yet one that would be better for sculpture than anything else.

I carry the "porte-bonheur" you sent me when I fly. I am glad you realized that I could have an increase of allowance. Can you make it definite ? It is important, so that’s why I insist. I’ve found that comfort is more important than I thought, and distraction, too, since I have been on the job flying. I not only need it, but must have it, from the smallest detail of milk up to the joy rides and dinners and a theatre show now and then. I have not received candy nor cigarettes, nor soap, nor safety-pins from you, and only need the first two, though I thank you for all those attentions.

As yet I have seen no battles and don’t wish you to say I have. A battle is far different from the artillery joking I’ve come in contact with.

I think I told you that I received my student-pilot badge from the French Government and I wear it proudly, counting it fully equal to a medal. It’s a silver wreath with a silver wing and a silver star and is worn on the right chest pocket.

Now and always understand me as very loving and considerate.




26 September, 1917


Having just received two very worrisome letters from you, I answer immediately.

First : You have worried about a good many things since April 28th. It is now September 26th and none of the worrying has, so far, done any good. The subjects of worry just come out good by themselves. Now, of course, some kind fairy, knowing your merits, has done all that for you, and intends to keep things straight ; so just let the fairy work of its own accord.

Now you reproach me mainly of, first, not telling you definitely about my affair in Paris ; second, not giving you specific details about the Aviation Corps and which corps I was entering. Well, first, I told you at the moment, that I could not say the least more about my affair in Paris, for "Taisez-vous, Méfiez-vous, Des oreilles ennemies vous écoutent." Now I cannot yet explain, but will soon.

Nothing in the way of a scandal has taken place. It has merely to do with some organizations and everything is now perfect — in no way have I ever come near a bad tangent to that honor which I have so far held sacred for my sake and that of my family line.

Third : I did not, at first, tell you which aviation corps I had joined or anything else concerning it, so as to be ready to resist any attempt on your part to keep me out of it. Now that I have your consent, I can tell you everything that the censor will permit, and that much have I done. Beyond those limits I, inasmuch as I am to become one of the officers of our Army, cannot give to any one the information that has naturally been intrusted to me. Besides, such details, technique, etc., would not weigh much in appeasing maternal worrying. It is more about my health, etc., that you are upset, and about the such I can talk to you freely.

We have an American doctor and a French dentist for our use. Our laundry we pay for ; also clothing repairs. When we become officers, we’ll have to pay for all clothing, orderly-work, and a thousand other details.

As to my spirits, you can fully realize my enthusiasm, as shown in my letters.

As to finance — I did n’t have sufficient an allowance ; I asked for more and explained why ; you kindly agreed to increase it and, my dear mother, I more than agree to thank you for that decision. If there is any souvenir you would like from France, in return, I am here to fulfill your wishes. I am sending you some magazines, the most practical souvenir on account of shipping risks and I hope you receive all.

I am in the American Aviation — the only one. We are to have the most wonderful of all machines. I know something of what types and something of further perfecting-training and something of what kind of a machine I’ll get, but I cannot tell you.

There are so many multitudes of "embusqués" it makes me sick. In no other country have I heard of the thousands of ways possible to get out of the real fight.

I’ve got a slight grippe, so I’m wearing the pink muffler of Elaine, around my neck, and it seems funny, for while hearing the airplanes roar over the barracks, her face is comical ’midst the wings of death and adventure — her pink muffler funny around my blood-red veins.

I wish you’d persuade H. to get over here. It would give him the necessary push and manliness to succeed — at least to succeed in America.

Now I close — much, much love.



September 29, 1917


When under the sun are you going to get over here ! The planes are still flying all right, and I’m getting impatient to get advanced through the school. If an accident of some account would only come around it might calm me down, but just now I feel bold and brave and over-confident. Of course there are from two to six smash-ups a day, but those are all in solo classes and I don’t see them ; besides, no one ever gets hurt, so you don’t even hear about them.

Yesterday evening a peasant kid on a bike was following our camion, which, by mistake, threw over on the road and sent him flying against a tree which broke his neck. I spoke to him, but though he tried, he could not answer, so we had to let him die without his parents.

Landing class is great fun. My new monitor (the fourth I’ve had) is a little husky Southerner. He used to be a prize-fighter and is therefore a thoroughbred aviator.

The other day two medical officers, a Major and a Captain, wanted to go up, put on some clothes and started trembling as though they were in the trenches. The Major told the monitors that he wanted a short ride with no tricks. The officers got in — white, waxen, paralyzed. Well, the monitors winked at us, and in a twinkling, those two machines were doing stunts in the air, from "looping" to "sea-sicking." I don’t think by the looks of the Major and Captain, when they landed, that many more medical officers will go up again. But I’m pretty positive that if we could only give a few senators and law-makers a ride, we’d be getting that one hundred dollars a month that all the men get who are training in officers’ camps in America. We are very peeved, that being under the same conditions, only more dangerous, training the same for officership, we do not get that one hundred dollars a month. That is the only grudge we’ve got on the Government. Of course, though, once away from home, you’re usually more or less slighted, so we take it as Fate and laugh it off.

As I was saying, landing class is fun. In ten minutes you have to make seven landings up and back the long field. The only trouble is that as soon as a partridge is sighted within a few miles’ radius, school stops immediately ; the monitors jump in their machines and run down the birds, catching them in the wires and coming back with a great feed. Talking about "running down," —yesterday a monitor saw a car run into a woman and then speed up to get away. He came back to a hangar, took out a machine, flew just over the road, caught up with the auto, made the owner turn around, and come back to pay his debt. It’s just great to be an aviator ! But you can only fly in case there’s no wind, no rain, no heat, no fog, no snow, or hail, or anything else, and then you can’t always fly ; machines and parts lack terribly. We’ve just ordered fifty new ones ($150,000) for the place, but they won’t be here for Kingdom come. We’ll all be dead and forgotten by that time. Except for one friend, Eternity, he says he’ll keep our memory up and put fresh flowers where we dropped .

There’s not so much doing out of the ordinary these days, but when I get to "solo" I’ll have my own experiences to relate and shall try and make them just as active as possible, so as to more amuse the folks at home.

Does America realize she’s at war yet ?

Much love



1 October, 1917


Tours is a very attractive town. Opening her streets to the warm sunlight of a calm and majestic country, she partakes herself of something of the surroundings and interweaving meadows and poplar trees, mists and wallowing cattle. Her big cathedral and her river bind her forever to God and Nature, while just off the busy hum of la rue Nationale, its concerts and cafés, still crowd together and overlap, the tile roofs, the bulging plastered walls hiding dwarf-like, winding stairway, doors, tunnels ; still squirms in obscureness and filth a vast labyrinth of the Mediæval Ages with but the geraniums of a few balconies and a rare ray of sunlight to spot it now and then with a glance of truth and happiness.

Along the river-bank is a small palisades with a broad hotel front now and then, multitudinous windows open to the sky, and big cushions of trees turning to rust. Far out of the town a crossing of tracks and an invisible railroad station tell you that the boulevards and embassies of Paris are only four hours at the most away.

Its character, I forget, but it’s very naive in the country and therefore very soothing and very simple in the city, and therefore very despairing. In fact, the only fun I get out of the city is in making it what it is not. In breaking up the theatre shows, singing better than the concert singer at the concerts, and owning all the waiters and cochers along the rue Nationale and the "Place."

A few dens sprinkled here and there in the obscure mediæval houses, a few garden parties laid amongst the bright châteaux, complete the fun, but it’s all too small. It does n’t level up with the other half of my life-aviation. This morning I got another ten minutes’ landing practise. Coming back I was with the wind and landed about 150 kilometres an hour, so fast that it was hard to judge your height when settling down on the grass.

It’s awfully cold flying these brisk but golden autumn days. And the cows won’t get out of the way. Nor the people either, when you feint a landing right on them. They just stand frozen on the field admiring you, and when you land, all the little "Tourangelles," the girls from Tours, just " Ah !" and "Oh !" at you by the hour.

Why, when our truck goes through town you would think that the glorious dream of Napoleon’s or Alexander’s armies marching into Cairo or Alexandria, whilst women hailed them from their balconies and threw flowers on their path, had come true ; for when we pass, the little ladies rush out to the street and the more beautiful ones cheer to us from their dainty balconies and holler "Les Américains ! — Je vous adore !" And even down to the little gutter-urchins does the street along our way ring behind and ahead of us with "Vive nos Américains !" I’ll get scared and think my job dangerous if the ladies keep up such cheering and the girls such smiles of praise out on the field. It’s real fun ; no novel reading, but the real stuff.


2 October


Flying went rotten this morning. I’m away behind in my class on account of the landings. Aviation gives you extremes, either joy or "the blues," so I guess it’s a pretty big service, bigger than the camions.

To-day our truck lived up to its nickname of the "hearse" by killing a dog.

Talk about feeling discouraged. I don’t need to fret so much, for I’m intent on either making a good flier or a good fighter. One can always go out and fight better than other fliers and until you’re "popped" beat them in reputation. Guynemer, the greatest aeronaut of the war, can’t make (I mean could n’t) a good landing yet, and took one hundred hours to go through this school.

Bill is flying alone now and is trying to persuade himself he’s in love. In fact everybody seems to be in love but me. Since the war came on, everybody has a sweetheart. I’ve never had one, but I don’t seem to be bored with life half so much and I seem to get a good deal more out of characters and events.

Yesterday a rumor of peace swept the barracks, and I felt real sorry. All my adventures seemed to fade. America looked oppressive and barren. Once again I came back to France. Now and then a picture of Paris brings me back too. I’d like to go to Italy, though.

I had something to tell you. I forgot — Oh ! yes. I always was a city lover ; being broke now, I feel quite lonesome without even little Tours. But I’ll be on my feet again in a couple of weeks. I’ve had about six hours of flying now, only get too imaginative once in a while in the air, and hope to perfect my landings enough this afternoon to be "lâché" -thrown on to wings alone. I have shop work this P.M. and will learn a lot of excellent practical work, then " goûter," then flying, then home again —dinner, bed.

You’ll get some pictures soon, but I’m not taking any now, for there’s nothing of interest.

Life is very stupid ; not enough flying ! — too lazy to work at anything, forbid myself any art, not tired enough to sleep, broke so that I can’t go to town. I’m a damned fool altogether, and live like a bourgeois or a college boy, from minute to minute — ideas stuffed up, no thought, inspiration, souvenirs, or hope. Terribly indifferent, hoggishly lazy, criminally conscious of the whole.

Good afternoon



October 12, 1917


A long time since I’ve written you. Well, the time’s been longer for me. We haven’t been flying at all hardly. In other words, I’ve been learning the chief occupation of aviation school — seeing the country, being broke, indulging in laziness so beautifully that everything bores you but flying. Nevertheless, in spite of a week and a half without seeing a machine outside of the hangar, I’ve been able to get in enough time to get through landing school and am now ready to pilot a machine through the air alone. That means that at the next break Nature makes and lets the sun out, the rain away, and the wind down, with the fog up, I’ll be out to jump into the big excitement of school work. Your first "solo-hop."

I don’t know whether I’ve told you that I’m in a room with three others. Bill, Jack, and Bruce (a man and a writer, an excellent camp companion). My favorite rainy-day occupation is a side track of my general Beelzebubic life. Writing letters to juggle friends, mix up circumstances and conditions, churn politics with psychology, and get my mail, a little more exciting, bringing definite messages of broken hearts, simple researches, unveiling characters, threats of vengeance, and a defeat or victory here and there and all around.

All my sweethearts are breaking off with me ! It’s so annoying, for I’ll just have to waste a week getting new ones. Now isn’t that the serious life for a man who should be contemplating the thousand and one inspirations that aviation outpours through its divine channels to a man !

But you see, were it not for my frivolities, I would either be thinking all the time of flying, either extending my artistic sensibilities, either doing nothing at all. The first would result in insanity, the second in a fatal mood of supersensitiveness some nine thousand feet off earth, which would quickly save me the trouble of becoming sensitive again. The latter would result in idiocy. Therefore, instead of those three, I chose a fourth — slightly better — that of frivolity which makes a man laugh, more human, somewhat rusé and experienced according to his vanity — and a good companion, according to others.

You say you like Science better than Fiction, for Fiction is all unrealities. I doubt it. As to the surface of Fiction : Characters and habits, those may be unreal, but these characters and habits are only means of approaching the reader through a channel of comprehension most natural to him —that of his fellowmen and their actions, to the greater truths of life, outstanding in every good novel. For it is only for the form of persons that the author claims a demand of interest — not the reality of them. And it is through this form — human characters and their actions — that the author shows how life is beautiful—brings forth with the lives of his characters, as history with the lives of nations, the truths of nature—the philosophies of life and the many factors that go to make the life of man so beautiful and even to show it the way to heaven.

Of course all novels do not aim mostly at an aspect of life — a view of heaven, an ideal, or a disdain. Some get deeply interested in their characters, sympathize with the heroes and shudder at the villains, their baseness. Those novels tend to make you understand those about you better, to make you appreciate their delicacies of soul, and to realize that man’s day-to-day life, with all its materialism is a great, quivering harp with high notes and low ones all a-tremble of a gigantic Fairyland.

Novels, then, where the chief interests of the author are his characters, are novels for the heart—they cultivate appreciation. Novels where there is an interest from the author to show a truth in life and nature and opening to heaven or hell, are novels for the soul — they tend to direct in the channels of philosophy towards an ideal — high or low.

Well, you have read some of Flaubert : You don’t like his ’Éducation Sentimentale" ; evidently you did n’t see in every detail the general truth of the whole. That in every act of the boy, you did n’t see the germ of bourgeoisie, tending to destroy the first boyish ideals — high and worthy — until, losing little by little the ambition to carry them out or the appreciation of the spiritual at all, the only bit of light he had left was the souvenir of away back in his first promising days of youth and ideals — but what souvenir ? That of his ideals — his dreams ? No ! a souvenir of a mediocre palpitation of passion — of mediocre tangency to life, but a tangency nevertheless, for the once and only time.

You did n’t see Flaubert all the way through, fighting his enemy as a crusader — for a religion. Flaubert fighting bourgeoisie — abhorring it — trying, through the decadence of the boy’s idealism into base materialism, to damn bourgeoisie in the face of all his readers.

Not only was Flaubert appealing to your heart to appreciate the palpitations, the flux and reflux, harmonies and discords of his characters, but was he begging of your soul to spur itself away from bourgeoisie. I also note that of all Flaubert’s works you have not read that book which has made him the author of the strongest novel of contemporaneous literature — " Madame Bovary."

You say you are reading Baudelaire. I am sorry. He is not one of my idols. He is just a satisfier for certain moods — a bible for the wicked ; and one can only be wicked by moods, without becoming voluntarily insane, like the author.

To read him you must first read a sketch of his life, and realize that the man voluntarily, through his supreme sensitiveness, went dopy, sensitive outrageously, insane. He became a wreck and enjoyed it. He grinned at his carcass and the haunt of approaching death. He found beauty in it (the most wonderful and correct of Baudelaire’s achievements). He wrote madly when convulsions and dizziness and pain never left him, and in his dying bed, glorified in the news that he had contracted a malady the physicians could not solve — something beyond their science — something new, deliciously eccentric. But I’m sorry you’re reading Baudelaire. Unless one fully realizes what they’re running into and has a complete bird’s-eye view of the man, his life, and his work, they are liable to get mixed up between the beauty of his lines and their own concentration, and not seeing much of a horizon in general, soon get mixed up in the details, until they feel they’ve been reading Nietszche for a sermon the last century or two.

Besides Baudelaire is more of a curiosity — the psychological specimen of a dangerous beauty — than an idol. He was the starter of the new musical school, but I doubt if he knew so. It probably came unconsciously through his love of sound. Don’t read Baudelaire unless you want to go mad. Now I suppose you surely will.

Well, I expect to get some "argent" soon and get some food and adventure.

One fellow is ringing (I mean banging) a banjo in my left ear—the second, Bill, is whistling rag-time like a freight whistle in my right ear, and a third is chewing an apple, like a yard of swine at one trough, in both ears at once, so good-night before I become Baudelaire, his poems and an aviator ; in other words, the foam in raging and hydrophobia in foam.

Bonne nuit et bon baiser



Aviation School, October 15, 1917


How is the sunshine in New York this afternoon ? Here the sky is blue-gray, full of rain, excepting in the west where a firmament of gold reflects its rays over a favored blotch of Touraine landscape — the poplar trees and the rusty roofed houses ’midst their orchards, and elevates with its golden mist this mirage of country into regions divine as the mist of a halo sheds a heavenly grace on the face of a painting.

Outside of heaven there’s also been a little hell, just to make the world go round. That is — I’ve flown alone ! I’ve made my first "solo-hop." How I came out, how I felt, my impressions — I don’t know. Ask some blind man, some crazy man, some dying man — he could tell you far better. I myself know nothing about it, either how I went, why I went, or where I went.

When "reveille" sounded this morning, and I looked out on a clear day, I knew that the biggest moment of school work had come — the dreaded first "hop" alone.

I had been so filled with scarey tales and wild descriptions that I did n’t have any imagination left to get scared on myself, so when I got out to the long-envied solo field, I took a look at the sky as usual, put on my gloves, and climbed in. The thing that bothered me most, so material I had become, was that the seat was n’t very comfortable.,

Then the chief pilot showed me the direction, and before I knew it (just like at the dentist’s) they had the motor on. Where was my monitor, why was n’t he in the machine ? Oh — it’s to be all done alone by myself— to hang in space by myself — well, " Remember I like lilies, boys," and without knowing why — the demon was off. Things seemed smooth — the sun was coming up prettily and I leaned over the side to see if I was off yet. Well, I felt like I was standing on the head of the flag pole of the Metropolitan Building. Then I felt alone. And Gee ! I was never quite so homesick — never in the depths even of a jungle — as I was just then, a little way off solid ground. I decided mighty quickly that Mother Earth was very loving — exceedingly loving, so I cut her off and nosed into a glide. Somehow she decided — for she’s a masterful mistress, a real vampire — she decided to cati-corner — that is, to make the "first hopper" feel like a kitten entangled in a ball of yarn ; so that my landing was like a flat tire.

By the time I fully realized that I had flown by myself, without breaking my neck, a few Annamite mechanics came running up to me and set me on my backward route — "taxying" across the field. And there you are ! At least I can come walking back with the crowd from solo field. I am one of the austerities of camp. Flying now starts — I mean not exactly flying — but excitement.

Of course aviation is, from the first ride to the last smash-up, one long series of heart-quakes ; dinner parties, and sleeping, but after you start out alone in the world, the heart-quakes become soul-quakes.

Machines break up around you, friends escape by a hair’s breadth or don’t get the hair’s breadth in, and you yourself are floating between heaven and earth with a trip much easier and quicker to make upwards to Saint Peter and heaven, than downwards to earth.

My next trip will be a "tour-de-piste" about ten minutes around the main field. Other machines to look out for (landing from a height and length of time not counting the weather up above and your nervousness) make it quite appalling, so I’ll go to the theatre and get it off my mind.

By the way, we’ll be allowed the privilege of being the first of America’s Army to get to the front, for the other boys won’t be in the trenches before we overfly them.

Say, by the way, is n’t this the typical dream — a mother reading her boy’s letter about the trenches and the enemy ?

I received the Pequot Casino cigarettes, and outside of making me sick for New London every time I smoked one they arrived just at the critical point in the happiness and sociability of a room of four camp boys, when all four are broke and the last pinch of tobacco has long gone, even to the last scent of its smoke-rings, for when a room no longer smells of sweet tobacco, it loses coziness and spirituality ; the boards of the walls, the crude furniture, all its materialism triumphs in its cold reality.

Did I tell you I had just finished Benj. Constant’s "Adolphe" ? A powerful analysis mediocrely told.

Some of the causes seem often weak, but of course he had a weak and lazy type to treat, who, moreover, had the misfortune to go through his first love affair — period when one has wild ideals of self-sacrifice — under conditions that made his smallest actions and thoughts important and lead to important results — a woman depending on no one, free to be with him continually, for him and more than all over him. Too strong a character seeking too decisive results and important results out of a boy who was only in his first love , where beautiful principles dominate the demands of life and thereby wreck them if they get a chance. They got a chance at Adolphe, for he was free to act as his puppy heart dreamt and wreck him they did.

Of course, too, the weak causes can be defended as true to nature, through the fact that it was the actual experience of the author and Madame de Staël.

Create some big work this winter out of your summer’s inspiration.

Love always and abundantly



Aviation School in France
October 17


Now don’t you wish you had flattered and fondled me beyond all extremes, now that I can fly instead of walk ; don’t you wish you could get a hint, an invitation, an actual flight ? Think of seeing Uncle Free’s palace from above and soaring fax beyond its pinnacles a-gleam in the sunlight, to glide to the four corners of wide-spanning Watseka ! Dominating the world, dominating the human race, dominating Watseka, Onarga, Kankakee, and La Hogue all at once, from one point in space in the time of one second — then would n’t you feel like flattering and fondling more than ever your little grandson ?

It’s great sport, though, and after eating and sleeping, is really divine. I’m running the ol’ boat alone now, and Gee ! how the clouds do hate me ! They stir up more wind and Cain-raising in a second or two than all the Fourth-of-July crackers in Watseka could do at three in the morning. It even beats the arguments around the corners of Main Street and often has the advantage of very decisive results — absolute smash ups.

That, of course, adds a current of excitement to the monotony of camp — betting whether or not a chap is going to "slip off" on his glide or "pancake" on his landing, and often winning a few greenbacks if he does.

You see you’re on the field for the excitement of the gang, and if you don’t come down ’midst a cloudburst of splinters and wires or at least turn a few somersaults, you’re not worth the training of an aviator.

It’s not all just so romantic ; though to-night, to see us sitting around a double-jointed stove, smoking pipes, blinking in the heat, and arguing out of the corner of your mouth freed by your pipe, to see us talking of bedtime instead of movie stars and anticipating a decent breakfast instead of a palace in Venice, you would turn our aviation camp into a little town gathering in the hardware store or the grocer’s.

Now and then, forgetting the price of beans or lawn mowers, we mention that Tom had a forced landing at dark, or that Bill, instead of milking the cow, slipped off the wing and just turned over in time.

Now and then we put wings on the speckled cow, but outside of that we appear, are, and feel like a bunch of farmers. Of course (as you can guess) just during the broke period.

Pay-day always leaves the farmyard gathering miles beyond and looms up the dear and more becoming palaces of the Venice of our Youth.

A city is at our disposal and aeroplanes to spur us on, so we usually make things hum. We turn the town’s old propeller around and if the motor does n’t spin, we break it into a dozen sky rockets.

Does that seem comprehensible to you in America ? I hope so, because over here aviators are supposed to be insane, and I’m almost afraid we are. We have fits of silliness, daring, and raving absolutely worthy of Kankakee’s insane asylum, far exceeding the limits of the stage or even of auto-racing, worthy only of its true native home into which it fits perfectly, this flying life — the insane house. In fact, you can see that from the beautiful mixture I have here composed you of farmyards and castles in Spain, with a few big words and accidents on the side. Nevertheless, I can always be sure I love you no matter how "nutty" I become.



October 17


In the American Field Service, the percentage of death (therefore of bravery and risk) was one-fifth, while in aviation, according to the statistics of the last offensive that permitted flying weather, the percentage was eighty per cent. In other words, out of ten boys that left camp, two came back. So I was amused at your recommending me to be brave. If you’d have heard, as my comrades did, when I started off on my first "tour-de-piste" alone, our monitor exclaim : "There goes a dead machine !" you would have turned your recommendation to bravery into one to God and my soul.

However, I got out of the cheval-de-bois all right — straightened out ; and feeling somewhat the color of the trees below me, shot on through the air, my eyes watering as if they were peeling onions.

I don’t think I ever hesitated more as to whether I wished to continue to be an aviator, than I did just then. Somehow my legs were pushing the rudder unconsciously like the wagging of a dog’s tail, my hand just couldn’t steady the manche à balai, and the old boat was exhibiting gleefully to me, such twists and twirls and unknown sensations as I never imagined an aeroplane, with all the space to help it, could ever find the caprice to invent. As for other aeros, I did n’t give a snap — they just had to look out for themselves. I was far too busy trying to carry a ton of tacks on an ice-covered path one foot wide, between two gigantic abysses.

Every peculiar lurch, start, or cati-cornered thrust instantly became for me a wing slip (certain death) or a tail slip (fair death) or a loss of speed (absolute death), with a few extra possibilities such as leaping off the Woolworth, turning somersaults on the last twig of a tree and lighting on the lightning rod — Pavlova style.

As I was most ’round the "piste" my engine started missing and I to look for a landing ground in case of a forced landing. Well, I did n’t look long. Mother Earth’s smile, from up above, turns into the most ghastly grin of Satanism. I just kept my eyes ahead and waited. She picked up and before I realized it, it was time to cut off ; then to re-dress, to pull back gently for a beautiful skimming landing, and to suddenly feel a bump — brrrr — as the boat hits the wharf instead of just fitting in. However, I was lucky, for out of thirteen who went up, seven machines were broken that morning and mine was still intact.

But I won’t feel at home up there for at least five or six more trips. That front seat sure looks empty. It just makes a big vacuum inside you, and between you and the ground — a great vacant lot of nothing — great falling matter.

You see, as I told you, once in solo, a man has a lot to tell — the heart-quake moments turn into hours as "Poor Butterfly" goes, and the dreams into nightmares.

I don’t know where I’ll be this winter ; as long as I’m on the earth it will be all right.

I’ll write to Mr. W. as soon as I get a little brain matter and ambition back. I’ve been loafing and sleeping terribly, lately. My health could not improve.

Give me news of Dick and tell him to get over here before I fly back and kidnap him.

Very much love always



Aviation School
October 24, 1917


I am very tired — disgusted and stupid. Tired because it’s just after flying period and I’ve been in barracks, broke, for a month ; disgusted — I mean mad, very mad, because I have n’t been up to fly for three days, stupid because I’ve been doing nothing. Nevertheless, I shall write you, because I feel instinctively that it has been some while since my last letter to you. During that time much has happened. I have been flying alone considerably and feel confident — too confident in the air. An aviator must be calm and thoughtful — my thoughts are voyaging and dreaming too much. I don’t concentrate enough up there. I’ll not think aviation so soaring next time and will concentrate more.

Perhaps — for the sake of conversation at this hour about which you will probably be taking tea in the red-draped studio upstairs, talking nonchalantly or nonchalantly dreaming — I shall answer you with what I have been doing to-day. .

At sunrise, before even, I yawned and (we are four in a room by ourselves now, Jack, Bruce, Bill, I) asked Bruce how the stove and the weather were. As both agreed to my getting up, I slipped on my "leathers" just in time to race for breakfast : coffee, bread, syrup, beans. Then I came back for a cigarette while the first two platoons marched down to "double controls" and "landing." Poor devils, they had to take life so hard compared to the "solists," and at last I was one of the privileged ones.

Once out in the field I found the wind blowing hard, but was on edge to get up. I did n’t, though, and perhaps it was best ; so after standing in rubber boots and a wintry climate for three hours, I came back and finished up my toilet down to my finger-nails. I played soccer-ball a while, smoked a little, and went — I mean ran, raced, flew to lunch : potatoes, bad meat, tough bread and cheese. I rested after lunch and smoked some more of my friends’ cigarettes — tried to read "La Femme de Trente Ans" of Balzac, but threw it up. Then came lecture.

Everybody smokes and cracks jokes, for the lecturer — a comrade — is a peach and his stenographer still better. I intended to take a walk, but didn’t ; met some boys from Paris, who had their commissions from ground school in U.S. and were just starting in to fly. They thought too much of their , Harvard accent—a dead-sure result of getting stripes — so I just turned away towards my room. I again tried to read Balzac’s "Thirty-Year-Old Woman," but found her too complex, and upon a call-out grabbed my flying clothes and got over to the machine. I also found out I was to be paid to-morrow, so I had a broad smile on my face. It died down during the afternoon, though, for I did n’t fly, which set me raging — numb with the blues !

Well, one fellow was tried out in front of the chief pilot to see whether he should continue. He got by for some reason or other. We call him "horse-shoe" anyway.

Baron de Haven, our monitor, got mad because we cut in on the Anzanis and explained how yesterday at C----, on account of cutting into another "piste" that way, four men were killed. Then one of our machines bounced on its wheels and flipped over on a wing — breaking it. A couple of pilots went up in Nieuports and played tag and gave war manœuvring — that is, as soon as one would get in a position to kill the other — the latter would " barrel " or "tail-spin" or "wing-slip" and loop away. Another one of ours came in with its hood hanging on the motor. It was getting late, and I was about ready to fly as far as my frozen senses could make out. The wind was strong. Another fellow came in — glided — "piquéed" too much, bounced up some ten yards and dug straight down. The fool pushed on his stick because he got rattled, burying its nose in the earth, turning over, breaking everything to be broken, including, almost, my friend Jack, who was just climbing into another machine.

The author escaped, and we took him out of his belt just in time for him to meet the usual storming of the monitor. As usual, also, the boy took a broken propeller blade back to hang over his door or make a cane with.

Jack made a good landing after correcting the drift in his glide. You see, one is supposed always to face the wind starting and landing. The boy, just before we started out, made a "cheval-de-bois," turning around to the left on account of the pull of the propeller (propeller-torque), cut off and started again ; he repeated a little, got off the ground, thought he was still doing it, cut and came down on his wheels ; thereby "dropping the carlingue," that is, lowering the front-middle of the machine through a choc, so that being our last machine, the monitor strode off with a bark of a "goodnight" at the class of young aviators—would-be aces— future heroes — and future corpses, and the said multitude, including myself, who by that time was foaming at the mouth, strayed wearily, drearily back towards the barracks.

I will soon be eating supper. We have only three meals now — supper is very bad meat, tough bread, beans and jam — that is, if you get there first, and after you get there, can eat it, then I’ll smoke "bull," read, and go to bed with hopes and disgusts and glimpses of vengeance for the morrow.

There is my day — poor me — please a little more tea and another slice of chocolate cake, or perhaps a "tortoni" before the tray is carried out and we light the lamps. Mr. W., I suppose, is just coming home and P’tit is starting to prepare. I hear an echo of an old banjo and the hollow blow of a wintry wind. Ah ! yes, I am not there. I am here ; the echo is reality and reality is an echo.

I am not on the divan and cushions of the studio. I am at war.

Very affectionately


P.S. We honored Guynemer’s death as all other schools in France and camps. He is called the "Child of France" as Joffre is the "Father of France." Immortal honors of all deities are raised in praise to him — eternal praise.


Last day of October, 1917
Aviators’ School


I always put a lot of affection in that title. I always sit down to write you with great concern and a larger heart. No matter what I may write, what frivolities and scrawlings, what business terms or diary notes, it is always with much consideration and warm sympathy that I send the letter to you. It is a root that has taken firm hold and only the most desperate aggravation could loosen it. It is something that can never be forgotten under any skies, on any soil, for it is there ; it grows ; it is ready to force its presence on me if necessary, for it has gathered the austerity of even commanding me through the long years that have made us not only relations but friends. I hope that you will always be conscious of it under any circumstances — which indeed would be the trials to go through and the tests that are necessary. I think one always comes back to his mother. It’s an animal law and most probably a human one.

I’m in the last class of this school now, and if good weather keeps up, I will be voyaging and doing the other stunts that go to make up the "brevet" and to make you an aviator full-fledged, licensed, and ready for the Devil himself. After that, perhaps two weeks or three from now, I get a three days’ leave in Paris, during which I shall enjoy the comfort and refinement ; in short, the contrast of a good hotel, good meals, and all the other bourgeois luxuries. It’s good to wallow in bourgeoisie a couple of days after a period of more or less privation. After that I don’t come back to Tours and its golden, burnished château-land again.

I go to the school of "perfectionnement." It will be all American and the biggest in the world. Where it is I am not at liberty to tell, but there my occupation is that of the French schools of perfectionment, that is, training on light fast chasse machines (if I choose "chasse" work), very modern ; in fact, such as they use at the front every day. There I go through acrobatics and machine-gun work and some extra delicacies including lectures on aerial war tactics and strategy.

After that, I know not what — outside of perhaps another permission to Paree — just what Fate will do with me. I have hopes, though, — that she will not make me a monitor, but send me to the front, although both are worthy of any aristocrat.

To-day Bill is leaving for his three days in Paris. I will only see him again at the "école de perfectionnement." He got through without breaking a thing, which is good.

Just back from two ten-minute turns out on the field on the Anzanis (the last class of the school). I ran into a rainstorm for a while and it was annoying. It took half the joy out of the scoot, for it feels like fifty Singer machines all sewing at once, criss-cross your face.

Mother ! I’ve just found out that the one man in the world I would want to meet lives about five kilometres from here in a big château and wants to meet an American soldier. He is ANATOLE FRANCE. Is it really possible ? Were I to meet Jesus on Fifth Avenue, I would not be so surprised. Maybe I’m not out for the biggest adventure I’ve had yet. I’m off —let’s hope I succeed ; I have a couple of rivals ; one who had it all fixed up for himself, but is spending a couple of days in jail, Ah ! I’m off !!!

Outside of that, I’ve just received the "Touchstone," and as a most natural result fell deadly in love for the fiftieth time with all the Isadorables.

Mrs. B. has just sent me a great package, the best of which is a candy box all dolled up to make a marvelous Louis XV tobacco safe. The pictures of yourself are wonderful. I keep them as poems and beg you to take all you can. You have n’t sent me as many as I’ve sent you. Send me pictures of my friends, too, if possible. But after yours, what I’d rather have would be a monthly package made up of "Seven Arts " (magazine) and "Vanity Fair." I hope you will not forget them, for it is important that I keep in touch with the world I am to handle later. I’ve just heard that "Harper’s Bazaar" is now still better than "Vanity Fair." Do send me a couple of copies.

Now I’ll close and wait for some good weather. That means reading "La Femme de Trente Ans," of Balzac and finishing a couple of Futuristic conceptions of Gretel until at last a warm Indian summer day shall greet me into a future career that shall not have room for any of the late boredom. I shall do my test, great through its tangency to your first adventurous flying. Then to Paris ; then perfecting on beautiful modern machines and all the future I’ve dreamed of at the front and perfected in my mind as a gigantic horizon. So I’m perfectly satisfied with life now, although feeling quite material. So much so, in fact, that I’m more pleased than anything else with the beautiful pen I’ve found to write you with. It’s the best I’ve had since the funeral of my fountain pen. This pen makes life just one long serpenting enchantment. See how nice it scrawls !



I don’t see how the Victor records, trunk, and my belongings would cost too much, as there is no duty on baggage coming to soldiers. Please send them to me, as I’d like to enjoy them while I can, outside of the fact that it would be a little bit of music and comfort at the front, which, little as it may seem, is not a neglectable factor, at least to one who is going through it. Peoplein America don’t seem to realize they’re at war. When you come back from the Red Cross parade and their carnival banners and write me of how America is waking up, it does n’t make me smile ; it makes me pity when I think of the parades I’ve seen at the front — parades of living ghosts.


Aviation School
November 2, 1917


My first letters were purposely vague when I entered aviation, and I think that I have explained why to mother about two months ago.

My first reason was that I did not wish mother to start fussing and planning to prevent my decision from realization until it was already under way. My second reason was that censorship forbids me to say much under penalty of court-martial. My third reason was that those items of news entrusted to me as a private and perhaps, a future officer of the U.S. Army, I fully intended to keep within their own circles.

Having gone through double-controls, landing-class, and first solo class, I am now in the last class of the school, which will throw me on to my license tests and my career as an aviator.

A number of times I had thrills that made me want to give the whole wonderful game up, but in between times I have never felt so happy in all my life. Those thrills are bound to come. They’re the most of the game and make the sport adventure, so I’m getting over their after-thoughts and trying to be as sane as possible, though the French say that to be in aviation one must necessarily be or soon become insane.

As I have n’t the slightest intention of ending up at an asylum, in spite of its low price, even in war, I suppose that the greatest factor of flying, its inspiration, will be mine and geometrically increase that happiness that has already freed me from the hypnotic pettiness and strife that New York seems to loom up on the horizon of a young school-boy.

There have always been two things I never wished even to consider : the army and aviation. I am in both as a result, and still more, I cannot now understand how any man can keep out of them. They have temptations for every character of the "Human Comedy."

I would like to tell you the technical side of my life, and some of the rumors and plans that I hear about, but as you know, it is impossible. The censor only lets Art slip by and is often strict on that too.

In ending, though, it seems that in the last big offensive, that of Champagne, the casualties of aviation were eighty per cent. They always have been the highest, so I might hint that in case anything should happen, I would be entirely, at ease that you would exercise all of your very strong influence to appease mother in every way and prevent any sad results from her womanly fanaticism.

I am very respectfully and obediently



November 4, 1917
Aviation School


At a table covered with an army blanket, warmed by a cast-iron stove, lighted by a barrack window, sits Jack Wright, himself, with a letter from a little French girl in his pants pocket and a letter from a little American girl in his shirt pocket — as to his money pocket, there is nothing of special importance.

I’ve just finished an Abdulla which, being ninety-nine per cent opium, makes me conscious that being broke can never be beautiful, especially after being rich a week ago. Therefore, the letter in which you gave me a prescription of how to live on six dollars a week was most harmonious to the present mood of his majesty’s austere soul ; excepting that I’m just now demonstrating how six dollars a week is luxurious. The only thing that annoyed me in your letter was its vitality — that did n’t harmonize at all.

Since I’ve been in this game, I’ve given up Art entirely ; I’ve become like ye ancient Greeks who used to sun-bathe on the top porch, drink sodas on the veranda, and sun-bathe again on the top porch after inhaling the perfume of sweet flowers on the way between the top porch and the veranda (the way being made as short as possible at that).

My life consists of being broke and not being broke. Both are equally passionate : one consists of flying and the other of flirting.

You see, Youth was not meant for sculpture and architecture ; that is for lofty, classical, cold and beautiful Idealism. Youth is a painting, splashed with colors, lights, and warmth of life radiated through some crystal medium, some medium between nature and him.

As to study and its pleasures, contemplation of psychology, and the rest — that’s for still further on — Old Age.

Just now I am out for life’s passions. Whee ! but I’m wild. Still more, I am not making Art out of them, but making them the Art — the living Art ; the most real and therefore the most palpitating and the most in resonance with the human soul of all Art. It is a great deal to mingle with human nature and its throbbings ; they are not divine, but they are real, and therefore strong.

Dreams are divine, so they are vague, and lack strength and impression because they can only be realized in Art. Of course they gain in permanence. One extreme is materialism ; the other extreme is insanity ; the thing to do is to join them, but that I reserve for later on ...

The spiritual part is in me, but the other part, life itself, I know little about, so I must gain in experience and learn to weigh life in its true values and thereby join more harmoniously my Art to Nature.

Yet, I have another theory. Being an Idealist, it seems horrible for me to want to join Art to human nature and produce a medium between the two, for fear that I would have neither, so I think that I shall just take one and live it thoroughly ; then the other and live it thoroughly.

First (being young) I shall take human nature ; second (when older), I shall take Art. In other words, I’ll now become a note of rag-time and later a nut ...

So you see me, in spite of my cheerless surroundings, a liver of life — an artist of the real — a youth trembling within the infinite arms of life.

Outside of that, I am flying. I’ve been here two months and am practically through. I have obtained three things : A cadet officership, a French flying brevet, and the discovering of the most voluptuous and beautiful woman in the world — my aeroplane. Were it a choice between Anna and my ’plane — well, I’ll admit I would hesitate ; but were it a choice between the rest of the school put together with Isadora in the bargain, I’d choose my aeroplane decidedly.

My boy, I know what it is for the young country poet to hit New York, or rather for New York to hit him, but aviation is the ninth marvel of the world, be it the handkerchief wave of a school-girl, as I skim by, or the wave of the black veils and tricolor banners of all France ; be it the sunlight on a daisy field where cattle graze or the roaring speed with which your machine hurls you into the mouth of the mighty brazier gold : the setting sun. It is more than a passion, for while you are winging through space, you also realize that those sunlit beds of flowery meadows may be instantly the chasm of your grave. The very danger of it impassions you. Your head rings with the constant humming of the wings of death until, superbly mad, you strain your feverish lips towards Death, the queen, and beg of her a kiss. I know that some day these lips of mine that smile as Death promenades with me will tremble ; some day — some glorious day of Spring, with too much Youth and passion, and that as steel towards magnet they will seek her mouth and find it in a first and last long kiss. And that Death shall be like one in the full divinity of first love ; it shall be immortal and eternal.

That, my boy, is more than most men attain. Though your present life be "just as in the novel," mine will one day, for a few hours, be just as the novel could never attain.

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

Scott was right — n’est-ce pas ? Then why not come and join me.

Your mention of fruit and indigestion amid your poetic letter greatly amused me. It amused me as seeing Andover once again in the midst of your Oriental life.

I am glad to hear Dick and you got on good. Tell me if you meet any more of my friends, and for God’s sake don’t break up the Duncan school. Tell me what you think of them all.

I am living now with Bill T., —what I call a hereditary friend, one of those people you’ve always known. Then Jack S., who swims around in the river of my atmosphere with Springfield, Massachusetts, tied around his neck. Then Bruce H., a stoic old classic who writes sonnets and heroic plays, who has been on the newspaper and out West and who makes life a psychological study at which he smiles from his classical heights on to the chaotic depths of free verse. He probably used to be one of the good old pillars that upheld our friend the Parthenon.

There is also myself —lazier than ever. Laziness, you know, is the worst of human vices, for it leads to boredom and from there catches the express for hell.

Just found out that Anatole France has a château next door and wants to meet an American soldier, so I’m after him.

Write me considerably just now, for your letters are very interesting at this stage. I know they will change soon enough, so each one becomes a gem.

I will try to send you some photos in exchange for news of your latest girl (news from you, of course), and only hope that you get a few settled ideas in view during the very hard school year. I admire your working just now beyond the question of its difficulty, though.

I have given you, here, some entangled yarns of general philosophy — spiced here and there ; here and there wound into embroidery. I hope I have n’t been too severe with my seeming indifference against your life which I realize is hard - very hard - as hard as I could want.

I hope I have n’t talked too much of my lazy army life and its ego. I hope I have tempted you to write me soon, lengthily, often, and all the rest that goes up to make one of these impossible, perfect correspondents.

With my sincere congratulations



5 November, 1917


Just a word before lunch. It is a windy late autumn day. I used to like the wind, but now that I’m in this game I don’t. In one class this morning five men flew ; two had forced landings ; one finished safely ; two smashed up while landing, all on account of the wind. Don’t worry, though, for though I’ve seen accidents lately, I’ve never seen any one killed. Since I’ve been here, only a finger has been broken ; it was peculiar, too, for the boy was spilled out of his machine by some telegraph wires and fell to the ground ; his helmet saved him.

I was saying that I did n’t like the wind these days, but the purple and rusty landscape is enchanting. Now a long streak of vineyards with a row of leafless trees veiling in their dusk the white façade of a château. Now a cluster of rays from out of the clouds on to a bunch of golden trees and their barkless, shining trunks, — all is a land of color from the red belt and blue wheelbarrow of the road man to the valleys of rusting gold and their tarnished skies above.

I suppose I told you I’m on my tests now ; still more, I’ll be one of those to get the French brevet instead of the American, which, in a way, is a distinction if you consider that only the first to volunteer will receive it. The badge will be like this : [sketch.] It is the stamp of a full-fledged aviator and is worn over the right breast pocket. The wings and the star are gold ; the wreath is silver.

Then I become a member of all the different aero, clubs. No matter where I go, in what country, I’ll have a home and an honored one.

The tests consist of four trips covering some four hundred miles. Then the spiral test, consisting of two hairpin turns ; and landing within a circle, and an altitude test demanding you to stay at seventy-five hundred feet for an hour and a quarter and a number of landings and hours necessary. On all these tests you must keep a good barograph reading of level flights, descent and ascent.

This morning I went out on the spiral field and learned how to do the hairpin, but did n’t get up. This test will be like this : [diagram.)

Then I walked back, instead of taking the truck. The long Touraine road bordered by tall trees was sprayed with autumn leaves. Here and there a cluster of golden ones would sparkle out against the deep green background of a grove of pines — all tossed in the fragrant breeze. Here and there a still pool with a half-sunken barge that had been left untouched by the artistic French so to give more poetry where possible, and to send to the passer-by from its rains, veiled under playing reeds and bright leaves, the echo of an ancient romance ; perhaps when smiling lips met smiling eyes as the barge drifted on smiling ripples.

My friend Jack smashed a machine to-day. He bounced on his landing ; did n’t have speed ; so that the wind crashed him down again on his wing ; it was hardly his fault.

Wednesday, the 7th , — Morning

Again a word before lunch. Had a funny time this morning and feel quite happy, as one would after a couple of hours with his bestest girl, for I had about one and three-quarters hours with my machine. I did the three things I wanted to do while at this school : fly over the city, chase a train, circle down on a château.

First of all, let me acknowledge the candy —more than acknowledgment, though, for it was just like Christmas to get it. One boy got some cigarettes to go with it and another some Hershey’s chocolate bars to add on, so six of us sat down and with candy, cakes, and cigarettes, lived like millionaires, although we were all broke. The main joke of the evening was one of the chap’s fourth girl getting married as all the previous ones, so we toasted him with caramels and Fatimas through a long evening of aviator cheer ; he was the gayest of all, for you get to be a Fatalist out here ; in fact, it is necessary that you do, that when you’re up, you realize that if Fate intends you to live you shall, and reciprocally — that gives you great courage, and with the help of the roar of the motor and hurricane blast of the wind as you split the space, all fear becomes quite humble ; it must. We ended the happy evening like little children, telling ghost stories with the lights out and our bellies brimful of candy.

This morning I went with the totalizing class because I came out short of hours from the solo and needed a couple more about before voyaging, etc.

My first machine was tried out and ahead she bounced and shot full into the rising sun ; she skimmed upwards, and below me ; across the shining river, the dark towers of the cathedral stood in their mediæeval ignorance — petrification. My soul was soaring too, when I heard the motor talk back at such spiritualism. I wondered if she was missing. Well, you never have to do much wondering here. It simply stopped dead a second. I looked at it, at first patiently ; she picked up ; stopped again ; this time I couldn’t stand such foolishness and got mad. I swore at the cursed demozel for going back on me and fully explained to her that we had lost fifty metres and only had fifty more left. Whereupon she quit making fun of me and started off halfway decently again, but nevertheless with misses and bangs and stops that made my heart patter. You always do love a person more when they start going back on you. Decidedly I was entirely in love with her now, so much so, that my tour was shortened and spoiled for the need of looking out for good landing spots, clustered houses, woods and vineyards, not forgetting telegraph wires. Of course, though, I got back with my usual good luck. A forced landing is a great experience, but one never cares much for it.

In a few minutes another machine was ready and I was off for a half-hour. I sailed over the cemetery and its black crosses like so many dead ants, all of which I did n’t forget to salute at full attention, for one always has much respect for their future home. The wind was getting to be like a hurricane and bumps were frequent ; it kept me working steadily and my legs, even, grew tired, though they were propped against the sides. I passed over the bridge I used to take into town when I had money and saw the rue Nationale where all the cafés and theatres are. Little people were going about their petty ways. I did n’t bother to wave to them. Now and then the King condescends to anoint his people with a wave of his royal hand, but only as an exception.

I then took a notion to see if my friend, Mr. W., was home, so I passed over the convent and in front of his château, but he was n’t even out hunting on his grounds.

Flying at fifty metres is, after all, the best, though it is a little dangerous ; so I came down and passed slowly (about sixty miles an hour) above the peasants ploughing and sawing, over their heavy stone farmhouses with their display of chickens and kids in the courtyards and a geranium or two on a window sill. My neck was as tired as my arms and legs, so I settled down to earth again.

I went up for another half-hour and explored a different part of the land — long, brown fields, slim gray trees with blue-gray ponds amongst them. Here and there a villa in its luxury of leaves and flowers and autumn sun. I was dreaming away happily. Now and then a machine would pass under me or keep up on my left, for instance, like a kite attached to me being strung out little and little, until I’d back around steeply and change direction, getting face into the wind and scarcely advancing, but climbing as fast as I pleased. Just after leaving the city and the cemetery behind again and pleasantly bathing in nonchalance, the old boat took a swerve to the right and down on the wing in a speedy drop through space. I had a faint notion it might be the end and my teeth gritted. I managed to bring her back, though, and looked around for my star in the heavens.

Well, I went up again with orders to come back to the hangar when I was through, for everybody had stopped. It was rough and unpleasant. I was tired and feeling a little cloudy like the sky. Your candy was playing me a mean trick, I guess, for I thought an awful lot about the Touraine. I got up to three hundred and fifty metres (four hundred yards — higher than the Eiffel Tower) and looked the country over for a decent château. I followed the Loire out a way and saw a beauty — terraced and surrounded with fountains and gardens. One window was open, so I shut down the motor and glided straight for the open window. At the end of a hundred yards I was about thirty metres from it. Whereupon a fair lady came out on the balcony in a violet robe and sent kisses to the unknown cavalier, the aviator, one of her future defensors. It was a gallant kiss — not a flirtation. Something as the fair nurse (if there be such) bestows upon the dying soldier. I like those gallant kisses and the message it brought to me as a silver arrow shot through the golden sunlight was pure and radiant. This was the impression of a second, for I was just skimming the trees ; so I pulled on the gas lever and with a thunder burst the motor picked up the machine and shot her ahead as I slightly banked, thereby going in every direction at once : ahead, above, and sideways on a wing. I turned for a last farewell as I left the roof under my train and took the trail of the gods towards their vastness of blue. I got up higher than the Eiffel Tower again. Being bored, I shut down the motor and "piqué" Silent and swift with the wind whistling in my ears she dropped in a few seconds the space of three hundred metres. I was just on top of the houses and plains again with my stomach in my throat and my ears a-singing. Then I let her go on again, now and then jerking her upwards, which gives a cute little tickling in you. Off in the distance a train was creeping around a bend ; so I swooped down at it and when at fifty metres off ground with the train some one hundred to my left, I banked into a curve parallel to that of the tracks and slid by it waving to the poilus who answered me joyously, for at last I was "one of them." No longer an "embusqué," but a defensor, even of the poilu himself. I felt their admiration and brotherhood sent out to me at last and was still more pleased than by the mid-air kisses of a moment ago.

I was feeling more than bored, so I gently rose to one hundred feet, swung over to the field, averted any possible machines, and first cutting my motor and then the "contact" (in ease of landing accident) settled down to earth with a gradual curve and a long skim just over the ground. Turning the motor on again I sat up in my seat, looked ahead, and "taxied" back to the hangar where a couple of mechanics came out to get the machine and see it safely in place. All this latter, of course, being done before the envious eyes of the last newcomers, who were in the double-controls I had left behind. In short, I feel like a Senior at School.


The rest of the afternoon I spent in resting up from the ride of the A.M.

I think that when I get back to the States, one of the features of my society aero club, which I intend to put in style in place of golf clubs around New York, will be a side show called "Flying without Flying." The person will sit down in a comfortable seat with his feet and hands on cakes of ice. In front of his nose I will place a funnel conducting a compressed air current of some two hundred miles an hour. At his left an ancient Ford motor will be going full speed, but missing, so that between the misses a machine gun can be heard, which noises will be conducted without loss, by megaphone. Around his neck a heavy stone will be tied which ought to tire the muscles out pretty quick, and on his head an instrument of steel something like this [sketch], which is slowly tightened around his skull and his eyeballs.

By this means he will soon learn how to fly. If, like myself, he has never cared much to even ride in an auto, on account of the effect of the throbbing motor, and the breeze, I don’t think he’ll care so much about flying four to five hours a day out at the front with the increased sensation produced by the ticklish feeling that a Boche is behind you or swooping down from above or waiting behind one of the thousand and one clouds just ahead.


This morning I went into "spiral test." I did n’t get up, but had to take the machine home. It is a much speedier and more powerful and lighter machine, so I found out that spiral, something like hide and seek for your landing spot, height, distance, curve, glide, angle, etc., was not going to be one of the easiest. My good luck, though, ought to pull me through. It’s now about lunch-time. I’ll stop a while ; no, I’ll get this letter off. À tantôt


Best regards to all. Our little spiral monitor must come from the Midi, the way he acts out, on his feet, the test, and swears, gesticulates, and jumps around in general.


11 November, 1917


Think of the marvel ! I’ve met another creature from the Onarga, Watseka, Kankakee triangle — a young student-pilot across the hall, Bill Lindsay.

Our chief pilot left to-day for another school. The boys gave him a gold wrist watch. He was a prince and understood the psychological instruction of a student marvelously. I shall never forget the way in which he sent me off for my "first hop" alone. A very young Frenchman succeeds him as Captain, which is quite a grade in the French Army.

Well, yesterday afternoon I was supposed to have killed myself three times. Not feeling ready for Purgatory yet, I just fooled them all. The first time I was supposed to run into two long, thin poplar trees, but what did I care for such a silly smash-up ? Then, when I banked around at fifty metres off, I was supposed to have either slipped on the wing or been flipped by the wind. I sure gave them the laugh, though. Ha ! Ha ! Bringing back a machine from spiral field, I was gliding, and at the same time watching a machine coming down just over me. I happened to look around just in the pleasant time to find the earth in front of my nose and the grass blades as big as California pines. Well, I did n’t care in the least for Mother Earth — not in the least ; so I snobbishly pulled back in the stick just in time to swerve up over her tender cheek with a sarcastic grin from ear to ear. I guess I fooled them all right.

This morning I passed the hardest part of the tests — the spiral. I had never been up to six hundred and fifty metres before (twice as high as the Eiffel Tower, so that I enjoyed ravishingly the new and enlarged wealth such height puts into your view — your grasp on earth. The Loire was bending silently round her ancient tapestries of sienna forests and the streaks and planes of light the sun turned the fields into. The city and her towers were lost in the gathering purple of a storm. As I turned back, the earth was completely drowned in the nearing storm, but I could see above it into the secret, sunny glow of heaven as the sun tipped these leaden domes with gold, while across the struts of my plane, as on the window of some saintly church, the sun slanted its warm rays, and I realized that, far below me, men could never touch nor know these spots of sunglow that went sailing with me, hung in the midst of the space of God.

It was very cold, though, for a north wind was blowing, making me drift considerably. As I leaned over the front of the plane to peer down on the mapped-out country below me, trying to place the field amongst the familiar land-marks, I felt as though it were at the front : those roads were trenches and that it was for a battery I was searching. Then I saw the "T" far below me and made for a good position. After cutting off the contact, the long glide down started with only the blowing wind for company. I made my first turn as a train passed far below me. Then came the last — the hairpin — a strong wind was fighting me and being without the motor, it shoved me far back away from the field. I was forced to put on my motor, which luckily caught. My barograph, considering the day, read fairly well. He had me make a second one — this time I was entirely at home and corrected myself considerably, although after keeping my eye on what seemed to be the field, once over it, I discovered not a machine in sight ; not a "T" ; not a person. It made me laugh, though the monitor was probably dancing the Saint Vitus’ dance down below, and all the boys were laughing. Thanks to an old tower and a lake, I found the field, but right under me, which caused considerable manœuvring. All went as right as it could on account of the wind. I cut and came down when I saw myself short and just about on top of some apple trees. Thank God, that motor did n’t miss and carried me safely over their tops. On my first "tour-de-piste," by the way, the whole car of the machine began to shake like an old scare-crow. I did n’t know whether a cylinder was dropping off or half the machine itself, especially as there was a grove of trees right underneath, which I supposed might be soft for landing on one out of a hundred times, but which I’d just as soon shun too. The old tug pulled out of it, though, by some mistake or other so I was able to get down and stamp my feet around to warm up, although I had forty good minutes flying this morning and regret that only the wind will make the old sport impossible this afternoon.

Have just finished Balzac’s "Femme de Trente Ans" and started his "Femme Abandonnée." Balzac chats delightfully with his reader, putting in philosophical bits and psychological studies that give a saintly glow to the whole chapter. You know creatures much better when you’ve read him a little. The hard part is to remember his talkings.

We had some tasteless white bread to-day. The first I’ve had for half a year, but poor as it was, it tasted like cake to me ; so that I stored some extra pieces in my cupboard for rainy afternoons.

Monday night, 12 November

Gee ! November sounds wintry, but it hasn’t snowed here yet, even though we’re a month ahead of you here in France.

Well, we had three hours flying to-day. Only hope that weather and machines will let me keep it up, so that I’ll be out of here soon.

This morning I did my altitude. I never want to do it again — at least with these open machines. My bird was brand-new, and soon all I could see of the city were sparkling bits that were roofs, and through the layers of mist and the clouds of smoke, the toothpick factory chimneys belched out still more obscurity till the sun seemed but a faint scintillation on the huddling of the industrious city. The test took me two hours, and from the beginning to the end I kept beating my fingers on my knees, as their tips were very numb. Otherwise I was warmly done up in a fur "Teddy-bear" suit and could distract myself on the way up by looking across the tops of the herds of clouds, whose infinite foam under the sun and the unspotted blue above, seemed a gigantic waving sea of melted opals where now and then arose a coral island or a topaz one as the sun tinted a distant cloud rising above the rest. I don’t remember all that happened, as when you’re up there, during what time you have to try to think and observe and contemplate, the wind is blasting in your face with the force of a big blinding hand, while your motor makes a horrible noise, most indifferent to your poetical attempts. Two things came to me, though : One, I no longer was the least bit interested in humans ; they were almost of another world of which I could only note the outlines — the roofs of those towns below hid, undoubtedly, romances, intrigues, passions, the beatings of many hearts and the palpitations of some souls, but I was far from them. They were vague and half forgotten, and I did n’t care for them nor heed them in any way. , If I’d had a girl up there with me I most probably would have kissed her a couple of times — but only through habit — not through the least bit of flirtatious interest. I seemed to find my joy more in investigating the new mediums of space in which voyaged unknown mystic and monstrous creations of ages past and future ; clouds that were the voyaging souls ethereal of dead worlds ; winds and light that were the germs of a vast futurity. Second, as I looked across at those inanimate clouds, vapor and mists floating half between the sun and the earth, as I saw the infinite blank sky, the cold sun, the numb earth, I realized how life was but a scientific combination, but of temporal existence — how it all went to — whence it came — to make up the rest of inanimate space, and to lifelessly float on and up and down as a factor — dead or alive — of science, not of any God or anything, with a soul, only of science, chemistry, physics, materialism, germation and withering. I fully realized that no future life was possible — that it would be ridiculous for us to have affairs before the judgment of a god after death (a god who had no place to exist in this cold, scientific space). I fully realized that once dead and withered, a plant of the planet Earth, we dried up and away as the rest of Earth’s plants and flowers.

I was then at the height I needed to reach nine thousand feet. There I was to remain an hour on a level — which I did — sometimes letting go of the controls completely and singing up there alone ; sometimes half sleeping ; sometimes quite bored with the petty yet monotonous aspect of Earth below ; sometimes tickled with the novel aspect of color or formation up above the clouds — mostly occupied in watching the time pass away on my barograph. When I saw that I only had fifteen minutes left, I think I never became so suddenly and extremely happy in my life. I let out a whoop, let go of everything, and though fastened in my seat, was kicking around and beating the old plane in a wild attempt to dance a jig. I poured out French rag-time and seized the top plane and shook it like an old friend and raved like a typical maniac for about ten minutes. Then I headed for the city and started the descent. Your ear drums are shoved in ; your glands are blown up like balloons, and you think your head, heart, and eyes are to follow ; but you soon get down from a place ten times as high as the Eiffel Tower. I went through a little cloud on my way down, although I did n’t need to, as I saw the top of it right in front of my upper plane. It smelled like a put-out fire and was quite disgusting and wet. I landed feeling like quite some boy, tipped the mechanic and made for lunch in a hurry not much the worse except for a finger-tip that I probably froze. You always feel great right after a flight because your nerves are all on edge, but half an hour later you find yourself quite worthy of a bed and perhaps something to stop your head- or neck-ache.

Well, here it is Thursday, the 15th.

The afternoon of my altitude, I went on a "petit voyage." It felt good to get out of "tour-de-piste " and swallow up miles of country. My machine was comfortable and quiet after the powerful altitude busses ; so that I felt rather as though taking a pleasant sail than an air ride. I’ve gotten so that I don’t have to concentrate much on the machine, having the "feel" to correct it unconsciously, and can look around at the country nonchalantly, as a fair queen gazing from her throne across her subjects attired in their court costumes. It is remarkable how you catch on to travelling without names of towns or any one to explain, just by your map, which shows you the shapes of certain forests, the direction of certain rivers and roads and their relation to each other. I landed at the town and met a couple of the boys. It seemed like meeting friends in a foreign land and the little gathering of our planes, ready to carry us away again, seemed like a beach party, only. that we flew there instead of riding.

On your voyages you usually meet some of the boys and each one has a different tale, equally exciting. Some have been staying there a week on account of weather ; some have just gotten away from a château where Count X has been royally entertaining them during a forced landing ; some have nearly met death.

The next day I started on a triangle. The first part was two and a half hours straight flying in icy weather. The wind also takes your head and pulls it back terrifically, adding another hardship to the whole. At first, it was pleasing to feel myself out for a long trip by air ; it was a wonderful novelty. A number of machines passed me on my way, and I flew over an English school. I soon found out, though, what these "brevet" tests are ; not a test of your flying capabilities, but rather a physical trial, a bit of tangency with the raw side of aviation, an accustoming to what you will have to meet at the front. I landed at X, with the expectation of a comforting meal, with a feeling of having slept out in a snowstorm, and with one of having wrestled a pretty tough bout. My barograph was so far all right. I signed my papers and tried to warm up and rest, but I could n’t get anything to eat there, so I climbed in again and set off on the second part. The wind was with me, so I went fast, but I could n’t see ahead very far, and it was getting bumpy ; now and then you could feel yourself turn white, but I had full confidence in the old bus and just looked ahead and let her go. (By the way, at the end of the first part I had landed with my distributor half off and a spark plug wire cut.)

Before I knew it I was over a city we spent a summer near and then at the end of the second leg of my triangle. There a marvelous lunch awaited me at a certain little house that has become very famous amongst we brevet men for the beautiful little specimen of American Beauty to be found in a neat apron serving a cozy family table in an unknown little country house in an unknown little country town. Three other boys were there Weather made me stay there two days ; two days of family life — Biltmore food, gigantic beds of silkiness and downiness, and a quaint village proud of a few historic memories and the inhabitants of a couple of people of the day. Outside of all that, we four aviators set the town’s eyes wide open watching us joke amongst their funny world of odd people, awkward and ignorant — comical to all but themselves. We would start out in the morning walking through the town, stopping at every little café and spreading our weird oats through their rustic life. We once ran into the town "marché" Immediately the "marché," though in full thrivance, stopped and looked at us. The whole town slowly followed us around their "marché" from counter to counter, as one boy insisted on buying specimens of their — wood and iron shoes and another in buying their tablecloth, napkins, and all of us following as gods from heaven or fools from Mars through their aweing, blinking crowds of sheepish peasant boys flirting with peasant girls and hardy peasant women wrapped in black, strapped in at the waist and chained at the feet with their sabots.

Another time we went through hysterics watching one of us get a shave at the barber’s., The walls were pasted with all the big men of the world : One whose beard was five yards long ; another who had twenty-nine medals ; another who was over one hundred years old, and other marvels.

The barber was a fat, rheumatic, goutchalic, peasant woman who first looked at her victims and then, chaining them in the chair, proceeded to flash her saw-edged razor around gracefully, chipping off bits of beard here and there. When she had finished, you walked into a closet and washed the remains of the fight off with some ice-cold well-water, and when you stepped out, she took you by surprise with a gallon bottle of five-cent perfumery which was all showered on you before you knew what was happening. This, of course, required a bath-towel and a lot of sputtering before you came to yourself again. During this time she’d be staring at you over her spectacles, planning another novelty torture of her art.

A few old priests from the school came in. One had taught under Nap. III ; one had received a letter from Louis-Philippe and the other had fought under Nap. I, but they were all as spry as kids, as they claimed, pulling their old gray bangs with a laugh and a jig and setting about for the long curriculum of the weekly shave and hair-cut. She came up and challenged each one of us, but having prayed anxiously during the shave of the first one, we backed out, one after the other, in spite of the looks of our chins, and the fatal mistake we would make in refusing Mrs. Bluebeard.

Well, this noon after lunch, I was bound I was going to get back, though the others did n’t think it worthwhile trying. I went down to the field, donned my flying costume, deigned to spare a smile and word on some people, eagerly watching on — also signing my name on some cards for some little demozels ; then, after looking the machine over, climbed in, tried out the motor, waved to the gathering, and was off. First I sailed over the house where I had stayed to say good-bye, then headed for the end of my triangle. I soon found that the clouds were impossibly low and that a mist made it impossible for me even to fly at the minimum voyage height. I was obliged to keep below two hundred and fifty metres and only hoped that my motor would n’t fail me in a bad place.

Soon I could n’t see far enough ahead to use the map, and the compass, which is rarely used outside of night work on account of its inaccurateness, became my only guide. The bumps were sudden and hard. Finally the fog gathered, and I was speeding ahead in ’a whirl of opaque mist and now and then a vague glimpse of brown that was the earth. I discovered myself to be over a big forest because I was but a hundred metres over its tree-tops. Thank my luck that the old engine was going good, for a forest from the air in a fog is an ugly mess of sea-weed and black things that you don’t care to smash on. It was surely the Forest of A., so I headed off on another angle to leave it to my left and get to the river. All the landmarks looked out for were lost in the sea of mist, and I was starting to think of how it felt to get lost when I was six years old, when a gray, snaky line announced the river, and then the top of a cathedral tower passed under me, telling me I was almost at home and safe. Before I knew it, it was time to land. Luckily the camp was in a clearing and I got back to my little room glad to see home again, to find my little articles of intimacy and a long letter from you.

Thank you for increasing the allowance ; I assure you I needed it and will be as careful of it as I am grateful for it. I wish you’d send me a copy of my published letter, if you have one on hand. Of course I am pleased to have something published, especially as they are only offhand notes, carelessly thrown together ; not even comparing to my diary, but it goes to show how the poorest prattling, if it meets the public demand at the right moment, can beat out the most serious art. It is a tragedy and a terrible pity.

I would send you more serious reflections from the war, but that I don’t want to see them lost. It tickles me perhaps —more, though, to see my smallest offsprings and most indifferent words picked up and published as would be the slightest details of a big man — just as journalists would glorify how Pershing lit his cigar or what Whitney Warren thought of the war while getting into a taxi. It’s all very amusing. Just now, though, I’m an aviator and that life has plenty of novelty, of varying, sudden, and extreme romance to fill the dreamy desires of youth with all its fantastic wonderings and demands and ideals. Aviation in war-time gives a youth just about all he ever envied in the long list of books from the "Round Table" to "Don Juan."

Well, here’s for good weather to-morrow. Ah ! Don’t add anything to my address other than Cadet-Officer, Jack Morris Wright, Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces, via New York ; for at any moment I may be changing camps and mail would be lost that had further specifications on its address. The general address covers all my possible destinations. A detail address could wait for me long after I had left the place for good.

Now enjoy your trip and get New York well out of your system, as you should every once in a while ; I’m glad to see you not only start to realize that, but to materialize the conception.

Best love for the best Muzzie


Two more days good weather and I’ll be through !


Aviation School
November 20, 1917


Well, your son is now a full-fledged aviator, diplomed with the Brevet of the French Government and a member of the Aero Club of France, thereby a member of every aero club.

I don’t know how far along I was in my tests when I last wrote you, but I think since then I’ve done a triangle first ; I did it in three hours which laid me up with fever and headache for three days. Then to-day, I did a voyage up to X, where there is an English Naval Aviation School.

It is a model camp and painted up to be decorative against the little groves that background it. Everything is clean and pretty and the whole looks like one of those little toy towns you see in windows.

They have a number of planes, well kept, — students in their English naval uniforms — very cocky — and all the mechanics outfitted in the same uniforms, all of which is very different from the French camp, which is somewhat humorous by its mixture of attires and bonnets, and — peculiar for the French — barren grounds and barnlike barracks and hangars. The French only care that their machines run, which they usually do.

In the Service

Back from X, where I got some English cigarettes, some English food at their officers’ canteen, and a general taste of those wonderful English gentleman manners which seem bred into the lowest classes as well as in those aristocratic thin boys who were student-aviators.

I took a little nap and some food and was off to make up some time and landings of which I was short. This done, I walked into the "pilotage" very proudly and expected the clouds to part, the sun to rise, and the stars to dance.

Instead, the Secretary exclaimed, "Another one !" And thus I was knighted with my pilot license.

After signing some papers, I came back to get my suit pressed for Paris, which was the first actual joy and realization that I was at last an aviator.

How the first days of double-control work back in September seemed far away ! Yet from the time I decided to join, in July, to now, it has been about a third of a year ; never has a third of a year rushed past my bewildered eyes so rapidly. It passed like a comet, furious and glowing. It has been a wonderful period of youth, of adventure, of romance, that which is now the ideal I strive to attain. Thank God, I am living up to my dreams. Thank God, my dreams are not fancies, are not dreamt in vain, and perhaps the forgings of a real mind and the real prospect of a man.



I’ve gone through the school without breaking a thing — rather clever, eh what ?


Aviation Camp
1917, November, Thanksgiving


Our Father who art in heaven, I thank you for, this sweet day on which I may give thanks that, as a result of Special Inspection, we are privileged to clean out the barracks from the cobwebs in the attic to the pinheads on the floor, to scrub the soles of our rubber boots and burn up all literature collected in railway stations, to dress up by putting on leggins and to be turned out of the barracks until inspection is over (some three hours) with the feeling of a starched evening shirt and with nothing but a vast field of mud to play in.

However, along with the turkeys the Red Cross has also descended from heaven and permits us to write you ’midst the slaughter of a breakfast table and a subway crowd of cadets.

I close my eyes and listen ; the hum of voices and the clinking of cups brings me back to my leave in Paris, only, though, to turn me around in front of its gates as I open my eyes again ; yes, I had three and a half days in Paris — rather, in Paradise.

Out of the cot, the mess hall, the walks, the vaudevilles of Tours, and the anxiety of flying, I stepped into the most perfect relax that the luxury of silky beds, Maxim’s dinners, taxis, and National Theatres ever bestowed on youth even in fairy tales or Parrish’s dream pictures.

Just now, a corn-beef sandwich and some spilled coffee are helping my desperate exuberance of description along ; so don’t be surprised if I tell you that I never spent three such days in my life.

For seventy-two hours I grinned steadily : I grinned while eating, while sleeping, while constantly wallowing in the constant caresses of luxury, and when I did n’t grin, I just shrieked with joy. I forgot that Aviation existed — its brevet pin that I wore was rather a symbol which I glittered through the throngs of Babylon from l’Opéra to Place Vendôme — a symbol of heroism to make men’s eyes open and women’s eyes half close.

Though I never passed the circumference of the Madeleine-Opéra-Folies-Vendôme, I certainly toured the world, and that within three days. I took in everything from the restful Lotus Islands to Inferno of Broadway. I walked on taxi wheels, sat on pillows, fed on caviar, and for a breeze inhaled but the choicest cigarettes. I most impudently turned myself into a king and commanded world-wide recognition, that is, the head waiter at the Café de Paris always bowed (not nodded) to me, the head waiter at Maxim’s always rushed to me to offer his best table, and the head waiter at the Café de la Paix always placed my favorite flowers on my table.

In the meanwhile, the bell-boy of the American Bar, rendezvous of all the aristocrats incognito, was always awaiting my sortie matinal at my hotel door to note my latest prescriptions, and next to him various press agents — dreadful bores — stood with their choice stenographer to rush the headline news of those prescriptions through in the evening Society papers.

In short, my arrival was a triumph (there’s nothing left of the Arc de l’Étoile), my stay was an epoch, and my departure was a funeral — in fact, I can still hear the bewailings, especially when the sergeant-major informs me, through a megaphone and an army dictionary that my bunk is an insult.

Having drained Paris, or rather, Paris having drained me, I came down here at X, somewhere in France, mainly in the mud.

Just one incident happened in between, though. I took off the ermine and donned one of these beautifully simple private’s uniforms ; kings always like to be simple now and then, you know. After an auto ride through the country of France — i.e., a truck ride in the rain — I descended at my winter resort. The first sight of my quarters convinced me that great inventions were under way ; they were surely preparing us for undersea flying, for I walked into what at first seemed to be a submarine ; as I became used to the dark, however, I found conditions different, i.e., more like that curiosity called the steerage. I don’t think that even a woman would have wanted to become curious then, though.

Being slim and pale they shoved me into an upper bunk so that the climbing up and down the wall to get in would help me along ; at the same time I would accustom myself to altitude work and thus be able to — nay, dream not of that, but of helping build the new reservoir that marks the spot from afar — all resorts have the famous flag pole.

The boat was making me a little sea-sick as I had too much Paris, but a phonograph came to my rescue with rag-time. Their worn-out records and their cheap tones have done more these first few days in saving my life than Schubert’s "Ave Maria" ever did in saving my soul. I’ll never again mock the poet’s love for inanimate objects, for this "phono" has become my muse, my religion, my life, my Paris, my corn-cob pipe.

"Oh, wondrous, ethereal phonograph, 
To thine nightingale voice ’
Let me write thee a poet’s paragraph."

By that time I was just beginning to realize the substantiality of my brevet and the fact that at last I was a full-fledged aviator. The next morning, while trying to dress at 5.30, 1 stopped realizing a moment, — being frozen through, — but soon after, picking up stones on a field and piling them daintily in little heaps, I more than realized the heights of aviation. Only one thing lacked to make me feel at home — the black and white suit ; but a little later, I, my soul, and my realization of being an aviator, was politely allowed to expand itself further as I carried — more than ever at home —machine guns down a railroad track, slipping on the muddy ties just as back on Fifth Avenue or the Champs Élysées —just as when, a red bandanna slung on a branch over my shoulders, I used to tread the Santa Fé.

Since then I have been passing the time away passing inspections, unbuttoning my coat to sit down again, and doing it up for another inspection. In between the button-holes I have been laughing away the blues.

That also is quite an art, especially in such a contrast as I am now, when your dreams glide down the fluttering boulevards of Paris and quiver on their butterfly wings whilst your feet slip under you in the mud and at the same time you’re saluting in all directions.

Ah, yes ! I’m in the Army. I’m even in the Aviation. I’m in the barracks — in the mud — in the barren, empty, stupid, and unsympathetic. I’m being a number (186) in a place Dante never imagined, and yet — a secret — a little word from within me — just a note, but yet the key to a mighty symphony — this all, that makes this letter whine in spite of me — this all — it is the what that makes a man. It makes you set your teeth and square your jaw and if you’ve got the grit to welcome the worst they can invent with open arms, and still wish for more, if you’re a real pilot and can control a smile as well as a plane, you’ll not only come through to the caresses fully appreciated, — of a Paradise unbuyable, undreamt, — but more still, you’ll come through for the world, and you a man.

There’s why I smile, mother dear, why I laugh, why I shriek with joy and find the mess hall lined with chocolates, the labor done in Rolls-Royces, the camp a Metropolitan Opera House.

I did n’t mean to say all this, but que voulez-vous et que veux-tu — I’m in the Red Cross and all these ancient nurses talking over their sandwich counter lead me into their babbling too.

Now and then, you know, one can’t help forgetting that one’s writing back to New York where hearts are hidden, words mean their opposite, love is diplomacy and diplomacy is love !

But if you take this off in a den-room, far from the traffic and the tea-rooms, you’ll find it a good old-fashioned confession. It’ll almost make the New England cottage, the fireside and its little family seem true again and half worth the while as all that should this day of Thanksgiving.

Let all, even New York, give thanks ! I’ll take my turn first and in doing so, thank you, mother dear, for all that just, a simple word like that can express.


Love. Thank you.


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