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      As we crossed the bridge, I asked my escort why these houses were set on fire. I heard then, for the first time, that "they had been shooting," and they told me of cowardly civilians, who shot from the windows at unsuspicious soldiers, or24 stabbed them treacherously. But of course they had experienced nothing of the kind; it had happened to troops who were now moving ahead. They had, however, taken part in the revenge, and told of it with glittering eyes: how they fired the houses of francs-tireurs and then shot the people who, nearly stifled, appeared at the windows; how in "holy" anger, in order to avenge their comrades, they subsequently entered the houses and destroyed everything. I did not answer, did not know what to think of it, but shuddered, because it was so gruesome.


      A similar vein of thought runs through the moral and religious philosophy of Lucretius. If we look on him as a reformer, we shall say that his object was to free life from the delusions with which it had been disfigured by ignorance and passion. If we look on him as an artist, we shall say that he instinctively sought to represent life in the pure and perfect beauty of its naked form. If we look on him as a poet, we shall say that he exhibits all the objects of false belief no longer in the independence of their fancied reality, but in their place among other vital phenomena, and in due subordination112 to the human consciousness whose power, even when it is bound by them, they reveal. But while the first alternative leaves him in the position of a mere imitator or expositor who brings home no lessons that Epicurus had not already enforced with far greater success, the other two, and above all the last, restore him to the position of an original genius, who, instead of deriving his intuitions from the Epicurean system, adopts just so much of that system as is necessary to give them coherence and shape. It may, no doubt, be urged, that were life reduced to the simple expression, the state of almost vegetative repose, demanded by Lucretius, denuded of love, of ambition, of artistic luxury, of that aspiration towards belief in and union with some central soul of things, which all religions, more or less distinctly embody, its value for imaginative purposes would be destroyed; and that the deepest lesson taught by his poem would not be how to enjoy existence with the greatest intensity, but how to abandon it with the least regret. Now it is just here that the wonderful power of poetry comes in, and does for once, under the form of a general exposition, what it has to do again and again under the easier conditions of individual presentation. For poetry is essentially tragic, and almost always excites the activity of our imagination, not by giving it the assured possession of realities, but by the strain resulting from their actual or their expected eclipse. If Homer and the Attic tragedians show us what is life, and what are the goods of life, it is not through experience of the things themselves, but through the form of the void and the outline of the shadow which their removal or obscuration has produced. So also in the universal tragedy of the Roman poet, where the actors are not persons, but ideas. Every belief is felt with more poignant intensity at the moment of its overthrow, and the world of illusion is compensated for intellectual extinction by imaginative persistence as a conscious creation, a memory, or a dream. There is no mythological picture so splendidly painted as those in which Lucretius has shown us Mavors113 pillowed on the lap of Venus, or led before us the Idaean mother in her triumphal car. No redeemer, credited with supernatural powers, has ever enjoyed such an apotheosis as that bestowed by his worshipper on the apostle of unbelief. Nowhere have the terrible and mysterious suggestions of mortality been marshalled with such effect as in the argument showing that death no more admits of experience than of escape. What love-inspired poet has ever followed the storm and stress of passion with such tenderness of sympathy or such audacity of disclosure, as he to whom its objects were disrobed of their divinity, for whom its fancied satisfaction was but the kindling to insaner effort of a fatally unquenchable desire? Instead of being compelled to teach a truth he would not learn, Lucretius was enabled by the spirit of his own incomparable art to seize and fix for ever, in bold reversal of light and shade, those visions on which the killing light of truth had long before him already dawned.


      "But where did you stay then during the night?"

      "The guns are horrid, madame; are you not afraid?"


      How stupid you are! cried the young prince, angrily.

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      miles to the station through the most glorious October colouring."Then I'll lodge a complaint with the Imperial Governor of Lige, who gave me the papers."

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      CHAPTER VII

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      Et tranquille je veille, et ma veille aux remords,


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