Saturday, September 26, 2015

Shadows In A Timeless Myth Presents The Education of Women Before The Time of the Printing Press

Learned ladies in Saxon times—Education of women in the Middle Ages—The rise of Grammar Schools—Want of provision for girls—Convent schools—Improvement of education in the fifteenth century—Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, and her patronage of learning.
It might seem superfluous to discuss the subject of education in periods when reading and writing were the accomplishments of but a fraction of the population, while to speak of learning seems altogether an anomaly. As has already been noted, writing was a rare accomplishment up to the tenth century. At the time of the Norman invasion, there were probably few laymen who could spell out a breviary. Yet even under the Saxon kings, when there was such a dearth of knowledge among the people and a scarcity of all literature, there was a thread of scholarship running through the nation among the Monastic Orders. Although the foundations of learning had been laid, the building went on slowly. Strange as it appears, there was not only among men, but among women, a zest for study in the far-off days of the Saxon monk Aldhelm, who wrote for his female pupils his work, “De Laude Virginitatis.”

Times that were in most respects very unfavourable for the pursuit of letters produced students and scholars of no mean capacity. The seclusion in which monks dwelt by choice and women by necessity, gave opportunity for studies that would have been neglected under less rude conditions. Saxon ladies varied the monotony of their domestic occupations by the study of Latin, which they not only read, but wrote with tolerable fluency.

Latin was then the great vehicle of knowledge. It was the language of law, the medium of correspondence between scholars. Most of the accessible literature was in Latin. It was, therefore, to the study of that language above all else that students betook themselves. The learned ladies of the sixteenth century had their forerunners in the women of the seventh and eighth, in the studious Abbess Eadburga and her pupil Leobgitha, with both of whom the celebrated St. Boniface, called the Apostle of Germany, corresponded in Latin.

At that period learning was so closely associated with religion, that the Church was the nursery of scholars. The acquirements of the Saxon ladies were due to their connection with the religious orders. It was in the priories and convents that the arts of reading and copying manuscripts, of writing and composition were cultivated. So exclusively was learning the monopoly of the Church, that in the Middle Ages the study of books was but an inconsiderable part of a gentleman’s education.

With women the case was somewhat different. Their enforced seclusion in days of rude manners led them to sedentary occupations. They were frequently the only members of the family who could read with any ease. As long as war was the chief business and out-door sports the chief pastime of men, the quieter lives of the women gave them the advantage in point of learning.

But with the Renaissance a change crept in. The education of men began to improve, while that of the women was left as before. When William of Wykeham founded his school at Winchester in 1373, he thought only of boys. Henry VI. did not propose to admit girls to his foundation at Eton. All the great schools which rose up in the sixteenth century, Rugby, Harrow, Westminster, St. Paul’s, and the rest, were confined to the male sex. The universities, though owing much to the beneficence of women in early times, have, until recently, not only done nothing for the advancement of women’s education, but thrown stumbling-blocks in its way.

In education, as in everything else, the rich, of course, had the advantage. Sir Nicholas Bacon, in the reign of Elizabeth, introduced some reforms into the education of wards. There were—
“articles devised for the bringing up in vertue and learning of the Queenes Majesties Wardes, being heires males and whose landes descending in possession and coming to the Queenes Majestie shall amount to the cleere yearly value of c. markes or above.”
Girls were put into wardship, too, but the Lord Keeper does not seem to have thought any reforms were needed in their education.

It is not surprising to find that the girls of the poorer classes were often much neglected. A contemporary writer, speaking of the women of England, says—
“This nevertheless I utterlie mislike in the poorer sort of them, for the wealthier doo sildome offend herein: that being of themselves without competent wit they are so carelesse in the education of their children (wherein their husbands also are to be blamed) by means whereof verie manie of them neither fearing God, neither regarding either manners or obedience, do oftentimes come to confusion which (if anie correction or discipline had beene used toward them in youth) might have proved good members of their common-wealth and countrie by their good service and industrie.”
The children of the poor could not have profited much by the free education of the convent schools, for they began to earn their living as soon as they were able to use their hands. There was plenty of “discipline” in their bringing up, but not much regard paid to “manners” or learning.

The custom among the well-to-do classes of sending their children to live in the houses of the nobility prevailed all through the Middle Ages and up to the sixteenth century. Among the laity it was a recognized mode of education. The kind of training which the girls, under this system, received depended on the character and acquirements of the lady of the house. The primary things to be learnt were good manners and domestic arts. Books were very scarce, and, except in religious houses, there would be few persons who could make use of them. Even at the end of the fifteenth century it was unusual for a gentleman to be able to read and write. There were, of course, the schools attached to monasteries and convents where all classes were taught, and in good families tutors were employed for both girls and boys, such men as Elmer, Bishop of London, Roger Ascham, Walter de Biblesworth, and others notable for learning, acting in that capacity in the households of the nobility. The curriculum at the convents included English, Latin, music, and grammar. The majority of noblemen’s and gentlemen’s daughters are said to have attended the convent schools. A custom prevailed for these young gentlewomen to wear white veils, to distinguish them from professed nuns, who wore black, which implies that all the pupils were resident in the convents. It was not uncommon for the religious houses to be used as boarding establishments. At some places ladies were received as inmates of a conventual household, bringing their own servants to attend upon them, and to a great extent living apart from the nun.

With regard to women’s education, there seem to have been periods of enlightenment alternating with periods of darkness. In Saxon days, in the seventh and eighth centuries especially, the study of letters occupied a good deal of the attention of women. But while the Norman and Saxon were struggling into unity, education everywhere seems to have been at a low ebb.

Women did not profit much by the literary renaissance of the age of Chaucer. It is said that the daughters of John of Gaunt, who was father to Henry IV., were the first English ladies who could write (the Saxon abbesses and their pupils are ignored in this statement), while the earliest letter extant written by a woman in English is said to have been the notable epistle, already quoted, sent by Lady Joan Pelham in 1399 to her husband, relating her troubles during her gallant defence of Pevensey Castle.

By the middle of the fifteenth century, however, some improvement is noticeable. If writing were such a rare accomplishment as to add lustre to the family of John of Gaunt, the grand-daughter of that illustrious begetter of kings was celebrated for the keen interest she took in books, and was herself an author. Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII., was a noted woman of learning, though her interest for later generations lies more in the part she played in history. She was a woman of great intellectual ability, and had been most carefully trained. Printing was then a new art, and the Countess of Richmond, to give her the title by which she is best known, was a warm patroness of Caxton’s partner, Wynkyn de Worde, whom she appointed as her special printer. The countess was a very great lady, and had her printer, her poet, her band of minstrels, just as she had her resident confessor and her domestic retinue. She ordered several works to be printed, and did much to foster a taste for literature among the ladies of the court.

Her bent of mind was distinctly religious, and in her later years she regulated her establishment on monastic lines, and lived a life of conventual strictness. In her secluded manor-house, situated in the Hundred of Woking, her principal visitor was the abbot of the neighbouring monastery of Newark, who from time to time ambled along the ill-kept road with a train of monks all mounted on mules to confer with this powerful but dutiful daughter of the Church. In the picturesquely shaded house, which is still well preserved and retains much of its old-world air, the countess could pursue her reading and meditations undisturbed, and it was probably here that she composed her religious books. Her early studies enabled her to enjoy such literature as was accessible. She was well acquainted with Latin and French, but there is no mention of Greek or Hebrew.

We must skip the two next generations, and go on to the great grand-daughters of the Countess of Richmond before we find the dead languages assuming an important place in the curriculum of a woman’s education. There were very few books accessible to the laity in the days of Margaret of Richmond, but she lived long enough to see the means of knowledge multiplying fast, and to assist in the process.

The intellectual gifts and literary attainments of her grandson, Henry VIII., augured well for the progress of learning in England, and the countess, who died the year that Henry was crowned, was thus spared the pain of witnessing the crimes which stained his after career. The mental energy which characterised all the Tudors seems to have had its fountain-head in their distinguished ancestress, whose position exposed her to many trials and dangers, through which her strength of mind, steadiness of purpose, and nobility of character carried her unscathed. Some ills might have been averted from England had Margaret Beaufort been alive during the reign of her grandson. And what a brilliant leader she would have made of that group of learned ladies who adorned the second half of the sixteenth century!

Compiled from sources in the public domain

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It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Shadows In A Timeless Myth Presents The Trials and Tribulations Of Being The Lady Of The Manor In Medieval Times

To those living in the hurry and bustle of modern existence, there are few pictures so attractive as that of a stately manor-house in olden times. Its seclusion and calm, the solidity, regularity, and simplicity of its daily life, are a soothing contrast to the noise and complexity of the common round in the present day. We are accustomed to think of the Middle Ages as a period of strife, of rude commotions, with a generally unsettled state of society. It was so, but with it all there was a4 great peace which this generation knoweth not. Fighting and brawling there was in plenty. Life was cheap, property insecure; every man was his own policeman; quarrels meant blows, and might was right. But the very causes which produced this state of society created also an opposite condition of things. Bad roads, lack of communication, which made it possible for deeds of violence to pass unpunished, kept the knowledge of those deeds hidden from the community at large. Life went on in quiet corners undisturbed by the thought of evil and misfortune close at hand. There was no responsive throb of feeling between one town and another, no electric thrill passing from country-side to country-side. Each place lived its life comparatively apart. To-day a touch on any of our great centres of life is felt throughout the kingdom. In mediæval times England was not a whole, but a conglomeration of communities, each with an independent existence.

The manor-house was essentially a self-contained domain. Even the best of country roads were so indifferent that a town a few miles off was not much more than a name to most of the occupants of the manor-house. What were called high-roads were merely tracks along which waggons were dragged with the utmost difficulty. The house itself, embowered in trees on low-lying ground or sheltering against the breast of a hill, was in its isolation both defenceless and secure. Generally, it had a palisade or outer fence to form a protection against assault. That a house of any pretensions should be something in the nature of a stronghold was necessary in those days.

The upper story was reserved for the lady and her maidens. It was the part most protected, and was sometimes strengthened further by the placing of heavy doors at short intervals on the staircase which led to this portion of the house. Originally consisting of only one apartment called the solar, this upper floor was gradually enlarged until it comprised several sleeping-rooms, the hall becoming more and more a place for dining and receiving guests and transacting business, while the real family life was lived upstairs. Mediæval manners necessitated some retreat where the women-folk would not be exposed to contact with any passing stranger who might claim hospitality. It seems, however, to have been customary for the lady of the house to sit with her lord, or, in his absence, to preside at the dinner or supper taken in the hall. Her place was at the upper end, away from the entrance, and only privileged guests would be permitted to sit close to her. There was a full acknowledgment of the wife’s social position. To women of rank and station the feudal system brought certain advantages. Every feudal lord was a kind of princeling, and his wife shared his dignities. The state kept up in the feudal castle and in the mediæval manor-house gave the wife considerable importance. As far as social duties went, husband and wife acted as partners, receiving and entertaining the guests together. The unsettled times, which so often kept the lord from his own roof, brought the lady into prominence as sole guardian of the family possessions and interests. She was hedged round with a little circle of ceremony. A great lady always had a body-guard of maidens who lived under the eye of their mistress, while the lord had a similar contingent of pages or squires. It was a general custom in feudal times, and even somewhat later, for the daughters and sons of good families to be sent to live in the household of some knight or gentleman to be instructed in all the arts pertaining to their station. Feudal etiquette required that a great lady should be personally served by ladies of rank. With this personal service was combined training in all domestic accomplishments which it was necessary for a well-bred maiden to acquire. The English fashion of sending children from home was commented on by foreigners as a proof of the lack of parental affection. It was a fashion that was in full vogue in the middle of the fifteenth century. In 1469, Dame Margaret Paston writes to her son, Sir John Paston, about his sister Margery—
“I wuld ye shuld purvey for yur suster to be with my Lady of Oxford, or with my Lady of Bedford, or in sume other wurchepfull place, wher as ye thynk best, and I wull help to her fyndyng, for we be eyther of us werye of other.”
Dame Paston’s blunt letter seems to bear out the charge brought against English parents.
A knight’s lady was like the mistress of a boarding-school, and a very stern mistress she often proved to be. Rank and birth did not exempt her pupils from strict discipline and hard work. While their brothers were learning to ride and to wrestle, to shoot, and to handle the battle-axe, to sing and to learn to bear themselves gallantly like gentlemen, the maidens were being initiated into the mysteries of weaving, spinning, brewing, distilling, salting, and many other processes which were then performed by each family for itself. To these occupations was added needlework of all kinds, from the making of plain serviceable smocks and cloaks to embroidering banners and altar-cloths; for all wearing apparel, as well as everything required for household use, was manufactured and made up at home. If the male members of the establishment were numerous, a busy time the lady and her maidens must have had. Well might the poet write—

“Mult doit fame estre chier tenue Par li est tout gent vestue. Bien sai que fame file et œuvre Les dras dont l’en se vest et cuevre
“Et toissus d’or et drap de soie Et por ce dis-je où que je soie, A toz cels qui orront cest conte, Que de fame ne dient honte.”
No doubt the coarser kinds of work, such as the clothes for dependants, were given out to the servants; but every young gentlewoman had to learn the process, so as to be able in her turn to superintend a household. Tailors were also employed for the making of both women’s and men’s garments. In royal households there were regular tailors who made feminine as well as masculine garments. A tailor was called a cissor. In the time of Edward I., the King, the Queen, and the Prince of Wales each had their separate tailors.

There were large establishments of celibate priests, like that of Bishop Swinfield who lived in the thirteenth century, where no female servants were permitted to enter, and men performed all the domestic work. Unless the nuns of some neighbouring convent were employed in working for these semi-monastic households, there must have been a supply of masculine weavers and spinners. Curiously enough, the only in-door employment in these priests’ houses for which female labour was engaged was that of brewing. The brewing was always exclusively in the hands of women, and it is thought possible that even in ecclesiastical establishments the old custom was followed.
In the Middle Ages it was not usual for women to be employed about the royal palaces except to attend on the queen and princesses. In France, says Meiners, in his “History of the Female Sex”—
“When the kings lived apart from their consorts, they had in their palaces no persons of the female sex, except a few of those menials whose services are indispensably necessary in every family, such as washerwomen, needlewomen, etc., and even these were removed by Philip the Fair from his court. In like manner the palaces and apartments of the queens and princesses were inaccessible to all persons of the other sex, except the maître de l’hotel and the knights or esquires who mounted guard before the doors and chambers of the princesses. At table, in rising and going to bed, in undressing and dressing, queens and princesses were attended only by their women and maids; and this ancient practice was retained by the queens of France so late as the sixteenth century.”
But to return to the manor-house. A great lady, who had to superintend and take an active share in the making only of the clothes for the household, would in these days feel herself very hardly pressed, especially if she were also expected to be her own housekeeper and see to the good ordering of the kitchen. But if she had also to manufacture material and to preside over all those initial processes of which she now sees nothing but the results, life would seem an intolerable burden. It was not so thought in mediæval times. It is true that in noblemen’s houses there was a steward, whose business it was to provide the household with necessaries. In the Berkeley family, which may be taken as a typical case, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the steward was accustomed to order, either monthly or quarterly, certain quantities of provisions to be supplied from the manors and farms belonging to the estate. But the lady of the house exercised a general superintendence. Joan, the wife of Thomas, third Lord Berkeley, who lived in the reign of Edward III., is described as—
“a vertuous lady and great huswife and a wise overseer of such household affayres as were proper to her sex and government.... When shee came to theis farm-houses (as often shee did) to oversee or take accompt of her dairy affaires, shee oftentimes spent in provisions at a meale there the valewe of 4d. and 4d. ob. [4¼d. about] whereof allowance was afterwards given to the Accomptant before her husband’s Auditor at the end of the year. And some tymes also a cheese of two pound weight was at such a tyme spent by her attendants. And in such huswifely courses this virtuous Lady spent a part of her aged and weake yeares untill her death.”
There was a dignity attached to manual labour which is exemplified in the use of the word “spinster.” It was a term of which women were proud. We now confine it to unmarried women, but as late as the sixteenth century it was used by married women of the better class. A gentlewoman who married a man of inferior rank claimed the title of spinster as a sign of her good birth and gentle breeding.
Life was, however, by no means all work for the ladies of the manor-house. There was time and to spare for lighter employments and diversions. We hear a great deal of games, especially of chess, in the households of people of rank, and the number of so-called chamber games shows that the ladies had many hours for recreation. There was dancing too, and lute-playing, and a little conning over ballads and romances. For although the damoiseaux frequently could not sign their names, and found it hard work to spell out the words of the breviary, the demoiselles, if they were not very skilful with the quill, were fairly proficient in the art of reading, which was more cultivated by women than by men.

In the intervals between needlework and housewifery, there would be strolling in the garden on fine days, weaving garlands of flowers—a favourite mediæval pastime; and in summer weather, when the lanes were passable, rambles outside the domain and occasional rides. It is easy to understand how much more essential was the garden to the enjoyment of the women-folk in days when out-door exercise was comparatively difficult. There would be a little visiting among the dependents in the hamlet, and for the lady herself, in cold wet seasons, a great dispensing of herbal medicines for rheums and ague. At all times there were the doles to the poor, gifts which were thought due from the great house. Religious observances occupied a portion of each day, though the length and number of these depended on the character of the inmates. Still, there would be certain outward forms of devotion to be gone through in almost all large households. Few great ladies were so punctilious in their devotions as the Princess Cecil, mother of Edward IV., who used to rise at seven o’clock and say matins with her chaplain. After that she heard a low mass in her chamber. A little later in the morning, when the slight breakfast had been partaken of, she would go to the chapel to hear divine service and two low masses. She said evensong with her chaplain, and then went again to chapel.

In ordinary households the saints’ days would be observed, the great fasts kept, and mass heard at regular intervals. Sometimes the abbot of the neighbouring monastery would pay what might be called a pastoral visit to the lord and lady of the manor, accompanied by some of his monks, mounted on mules, accustomed to pace the rough or miry roads. Besides these clerical visitors, there would be strangers to be entertained every now and then, and if they were of high degree, the lady herself would see that their wants were supplied, and would sup and converse with them.

Life in the mediæval manor-house, though it was a life much secluded from the noise and bustle of the world, was one full of activity and varied occupation. There were so many necessary duties that must be performed, that the absence of entertainment and of the pleasures of art and literature was not felt. The horizon was limited. Interests were concentrated within a narrow compass, but what is unknown is not missed. For the women the manor-house was the world. It is recorded as a merit on the part of Lady Joan Berkeley (mentioned above), that in the forty-two years of her married life she never travelled ten miles from her husband’s houses in Somerset and Gloucester, “much less humered herselfe with the vaine delightes of London and other cities.” If a great lady like the wife of Thomas Lord Berkeley lived so circumscribed an existence, it is easy to imagine how small was the circle of women of less degree. But this limited area of thought and activity does not seem to have been a bad nursery. Writing of the fifteenth century, Sir James Ramsay says—
“If we are led to form an unfavourable opinion of the male aristocracy of the period, far otherwise is it with regard to the ladies. Whether as wives, sisters, or daughters, their letters create most favourable impressions.”
In feudal times it was not all noble ladies who could live in peace and seclusion in their homes, protected from strife and rude alarms. The châtelaine was often called upon to take supreme command in her lord’s absence, and if trouble arose and the castle were attacked, the mistress was not only the nominal but the actual head of affairs. We do not find in those days that women shut themselves up and declined to interfere because they did not understand politics. On the contrary, they responded to the need with alacrity. The great lady put down her embroidery-needle and took up the sword when danger threatened. She did not fasten herself up in the solarium with her maidens, but took the command of the household.

A notable heroine in the Wars of the Roses was Lady Joan Pelham, wife of Sir John Pelham, Constable of Pevensey Castle. In 1399 Sir John was in Yorkshire with Henry Duke of Lancaster, fighting against Richard II. Lady Joan, left in Pevensey Castle, was fiercely attacked by the Yorkist forces from Sussex, Kent, and Surrey. The castle was in great danger, and there was much difficulty also in obtaining provisions. The long letter which she wrote to her husband during the siege has the additional interest of being the earliest letter extant written by an English lady.
My dere Lord,
“I recommande me to yowr hie Lordesehippe wyth hert and body and all my pore myght, and wyth all this I think zou, as my dere Lorde, derest and best yloved off all earthlyche Lordes; I say for me and thanke yhow my dere Lorde, with all thys that I say before, off your comfortable lettre, that ze send me fron Pownefraite that com to me on Mary Magdaleyn day; ffor by my trowth I was never so gladd as when I herd by your lettre that ye warr stronge ynogh wyth the grace off God for to kepe yow fro the malyce of your ennemys. And dere Lorde iff it lyk to your hyee Lordeshippe that als ye myght, that smyght her off your gracious spede whych God Allmyghty contynue and encresse. And my dere Lorde, if is lyk zow for to know off my ffare, I am here by layd in a manner off a sege, wyth the counte of Sussex, Sudray, and a greet parsyll off Kentte; so that I ne may nogth out, nor none vitayles gette me, bot with myche hard. Wharfore my dere if it lyk zow, by the awyse off zowr wyse counsell, for to sett remadye off the salvation off yhower castell & wt. stand the malyce off ther sehures foresayde. And also that ye be fullyehe enformede off there grett malyce wyker’s in these schyres whyche yt haffes so dispytffuly wrogth to zow, and to zowl castell, to zhowr men, and to zuor tenaunts ffore this cuntree, have yai wastede for a grett whyle. Farewell my dere Lorde, the Holy Trinyte zow kepe fro zour ennemys and son send me gud tythyngs off yhow. Ywryten at Pevensay in the castell, on Saynt Jacobe day last past.
“By yhowr awnn pore, J. Pelham.
“To my trew Lorde.”
 Compiled from sources in the public domain.

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Smiles & Good Fortune,
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Shadows In A Timeless Myth Presents True Stories of a WWI Hospital Train By An American Girl


An American Girl with a Red Cross Train
Told by Jane Anderson, through Courtesy of British War Office
This is a glimpse of a great organization which brings disabled British soldiers from the first line trenches to London. She tells how the wounded who are coming back to England to die—come back smiling. "It's 'eaven, I call it," said a bandaged Tommy of the Great White Train. The story is retold by permission of the New York Tribune.

From a closed British port to London I made a journey in a Red Cross train which, with great scarlet crosses marked on each blind compartment, carried a cargo of ninety-five wounded men—a precious cargo of war that I had seen transferred from the finest of his majesty's hospital ships to the cots of the ambulance train drawn up under the roof of the Admiralty pier.

It was through the courtesy of the War Office that I was permitted to board the hospital ship, to watch the unloading of it, to see each detail of a very complex and splendid organization, and to journey to London in one of the white ambulance trains created and set apart for the grave and pitiful purposes of war. I am grateful for these privileges.

I have come closer to the actualities of this war as it stands—have penetrated the surface of it. For these men who by thousands are returning to England bring with them, each and all of them, the stamp of it. It is in their eyes, the horror of it; it is in their words, in their gestures, the misery and the pain of it; it is written in their faces, borne witness to by every fold of their stained and shabby garments. It is France they are bringing home with them, France and the memory of all the gray and wretched splendor of war. This is in their faces; this and courage.

At first, when I walked down the concrete pavement at one side of the pier, with its railway lines and great, spreading gray roof, I thought that the hundred men or more whom I saw sitting on benches in a square, inclosed place were but one more unit of the soldiers which throughout England bear testimony to the new army of the King. But as I came nearer to them, saw them sitting there, with on one side of them the white coaches of the ambulance train and on the other, anchored close in, the great white hospital ship with its broad band of green, I knew these were wounded men sent home from France. The slightly wounded men, they call them.

"These are not serious cases," the captain who was in charge told men. "Shrapnel, mostly."
I looked at the long rows of men in khaki sitting on the wooden benches, with their coats drawn loosely over their shoulders, with their bandaged heads and arms and feet showing a very clear white against the dim and gray light of the pier. How patient they were, and how tired they looked! Slightly wounded; shrapnel, mostly. One of them with his arm bandaged from the elbow to the wrist and supported in a wide sling; one of them with his feet wrapped thickly in layers of dressings and covered over with heavy woollen socks; one of them with his left hand in a splint and his right arm wrapped in gauze the full length of it; another man, leaning against the man next to him, with his thin hands folded across his knees, and his head and his face almost covered with fold upon fold of white linen. On his forehead a little round dark stain widened on the clean cloth. Slightly wounded; shrapnel, mostly. Such are the terms of war.

Then I went with the captain, who was also the disembarkation officer, to stand beside the gangway and see the stretcher-bearers carrying the wounded from the ship. It was such a fine, spotless ship, with her broad band of emerald like a big girdle around her. Her great red cross amidships, that clear and gracious emblem of service, proclaimed her inviolate, symbolized her, transfigured and illumined her; she rested, white, splendid, immobile, the rich sunlight streaming down on her decks.


On the pier the orderlies were waiting.

Sometimes two of the wounded men would come fumbling and staggering down the gangway together, holding to each other. With intense concentration, without any knowledge of what was taking place around them, looking neither to the right nor the left, they progressed step by step, infinitely cautious. They advised each other, admonished each other, argued in an absorbed, gentle monotone, wholly engrossed, set apart, dedicated to this mysterious and immediate moment which lay between them and the harbor of the benches. With each uncertain step, with each circumspect, tentative advance, I think that a new cycle of destiny was spun for them, such was their earnestness and the simplicity of their world.

Thus, slowly, by open magic, the benches steadily filled. I don't know how many men were sitting there, nor how many more men were in the adjoining inclosure. But while I had been watching the unloading of the ship one ambulance train had been filled and had moved out, slowly, silently, toward her nameless destination. For each day, as the new offensive on the Western front fulfills the tragic bartering of men for land, the hospitals of England register toll for victory.

And this offensive, which has reclaimed territory valuable beyond estimation, was conceived with accuracy and true vision. Men were neither squandered nor offered up in sacrifice. Yet day by day the white ships put into harbor and the white trains come and go, weaving back and forth, fulfilling the purposes of war.

And I was watching one infinitesimal part of this.... It was moving very surely and precisely, the grave business of transference. I saw with astonishment that the deck was cleared. A little procession of orderlies, bringing empty stretchers, was marching down the pier. I had thought that the ship was emptied, so many men in khaki had passed down the gangway. But I saw, instead, that the work had but commenced.

For from below they were carrying up other men. And these men lay quite still on the stretchers, with their gray blankets drawn close around them. Their faces were very white, that extraordinary clear white of pain. But sometimes when they were carried by they smiled. I think that there were men among these soldiers who had measured the hours of their journey by their own agony. Only suffering could have drawn such deep and searching lines, could have brought such shadings and such contours into men's faces. There was one boy who lay with his hands folded on his chest; his eyes were closed, and the shadow of his black lashes was no darker than the deep circles which furrowed his cheeks. There was neither life nor color in his flesh; his hands had the fine and delicate transparency of a child's hands. Yet, just as he was being carried by, he opened his eyes, made an inscrutable, almost imperceptible, movement with his fingers as if some impulse had impelled him to a gesture which must be unrealized. There was, for one swift instant, the illusion that he smiled.

Yes, there was courage enough among them, these men who were coming home. I marveled at them; I had never thought of that particular degree of courage which lies in the one very simple fact that men—even those men who are coming back to England to die—come back home smiling.

And I marveled more and more at these miracles of war when I went abroad the white ship and saw just what it meant, this long journey of the wounded. I saw all of the splendor of that big ship only as a background for the men who had returned in her. Yet certainly she was both beautiful and splendid. I was told that once in her history she had come into royal favor; be that as it may, whatever the purport of her destiny, she had been fashioned with true understanding. In the wide sweep of her decks, in the very lines and gradations of her, there was that character, that abiding character and personality, which is the inheritance of all good ships of the sea.

It may be that she suffered a little from a certain lavishness, not wholly judicious. For her cabins and her saloons were panelled in woods of many colors and many grains, inlaid according to the obscure ethics of such matters. Not that her fine frescos were not decorative, with their bright cubes and squares and quaint juxtapositions. They shone like satin; in the borders, golden and black, the green, brilliant hangings were mirrored, extraordinarily luminous and rich in texture.

But I liked best her big wards below. I liked their generous proportions and the clean, wide cots, row upon row of them. There was, too, that faint, pleasant odor of antiseptics and new linen. The copper sterilizers, set on shining tables, were resplendent in that cool and colorless interior. The enamelled basins and portable dressing stands were a brilliant and stainless white.

But, above all, there was in this place a certain very fine and definitive individuality. I do not know that there were either details or designs in which it found expression. But indisputably this was a hospital on board a ship. It is true that above each cot, suspended, were two long canvas strips to which were attached a bar of wood, very much like a short trapeze. By means of this a patient could lift himself, so that, with his pillows behind him, he could sit up. Also, there were above certain cots strips of white cloth. These were fashioned like big slings, and they had been conceived by genius. For by the simple means of supporting a bandaged arm or a bandaged foot in them the vibration of the ship, the steady throbbing of her engines, was in a very great measure counteracted. But it was not in these things that the character of this white saloon was revealed. I think, instead, that it was concentrated in one quite simple thing. In this big ward there was but a faint, diffused light; for above the beds, and screening the portholes, was a long, unbroken sweep of green curtains, with black shadows marked in vertical lines. And these shadows, straight, deep bars on the green cloth, swayed a little, changed a little, widened and became narrow with a certain rhythmic, recurrent design. It was the movement of the ship. It was the inflowing and the outflowing of the tide.


Then I went up on deck, and there I was shown, that I might savor all the small attendant mysteries of the white ship, the officers' cabins and the staterooms for the nurses. These were, like the saloons, well designed, of good proportions. They were, too, inlaid with stained wood, richly patterned.

And I did not like to leave that ship, but a messenger had come aboard with the word that the train in which I was to go to London would start within five minutes. So I went with the captain and with the doctor who was in charge, and we walked along the platform beside the doctor's train, walked the full length of it, passing coach after coach, each with closed doors and a big scarlet cross painted between the blind windows. It seemed curiously unlike a train, this hospital.

At the door of the first compartment we stopped, and I bade the captain good-bye and thanked him. He said something about hoping that I would not be too late in making London, and there was the conviction in his voice that it was, after all, somewhat of a journey that lay before me.

But to the captain the white ambulance trains and their safe passage to and fro were but just a part of the business of the day. While to me, in this momentous step by which I was to enter the forward compartment, I was achieving a new world. So many, many times I had watched the wounded train passing by, slowly, smoothly, with the clear, broad panels flashing in the sunlight. And I had wondered what mysterious, what grave and splendid facts of war, were concealed within that inscrutable interior.

And I was to journey to London in one of those great white trains!

I stepped inside; and because the front of the carriage was two broad windows and because it was the first coach, I saw, framed in sills of dark wood, the black, square bulk of the engine, extraordinarily solid and imposing. Outside, on the platform, the doctor was standing with his hand on the frame of the opened door.

The engineer leaned out of his cab. The doctor turned, looked at him, nodded and said, "All right."
The engineer moved back in his seat. The doctor stepped into the compartment and closed the door. Thus, in the most casual and engaging fashion, the ceremony was completed. We were off.

I saw the concrete flooring of the pier moving past on either side and the columnar supports of the pier roof gliding by our windows. Through the open arched space between them I could see the sunlit water and the gray line of a wharf. Beyond, the tall masts of a ship rose very black against a brilliant and intensely blue sky.

There was in the compartment a curious impression of stillness, which I believe was due in great part to the very size of it. Certainly, it was quite the largest carriage I had ever seen. By the windows, placed on either side, were two big couches done in dark blue, with blue cushions; at the foot of one of them stood a square, closed desk, with a continental telephone above. There were also a table and swiveled armchairs, upholstered in gentian-colored cloth, with gold borders. A vase, filled with bright flowers, stood on the table; an opened book, turned face downward, had been left on the couch. And this was a compartment in a train.


"We have to do what we can with them," the doctor said, standing by the desk and turning over some papers. "We just about live in them, you know."

"This, of course," he explained, "is only a short trip, comparatively. Sometimes they are rather bad."

"Anything can happen, you know. Now, there was a man we had last night—we knew it was a serious case, yes. An amputation—only just got him off the train in time. There wasn't anything to be done. He died an hour after." The doctor sat in the corner of the couch, facing me, looking out of the window where the gray smoke from the engine whirled against it. "I've never had a man die on board," he said slowly. "But there are times——" he hesitated, waited a little, then shook his head.

"Yes, there are bad times," he murmured.

He leaned back, took up the book beside him, closed it and placed it on the desk. His khaki tunic and braided sleeves, with their three small stars, showed very dark against the gentian cushions. "It's the responsibility," he said, the even, meditative tone of his voice carrying quite clearly in the curious stillness, "and the uncertainty—the fact that you don't know. Anything can happen....

"There was the night they stopped us and told us about the Zeppelins.... That was the second time my train had been bombed—there was another night, but that wasn't very bad. But this night the train was filled up, all cot cases, two amputations, possibility of hemorrhage. And what are you going to do? You have to get them to the hospitals. So we went ahead....

"They were dropping them pretty thick that night—oh, yes, we saw it all right. Quite a thing to see, that!"

Then he smiled, that friendly Scotch doctor, smiled and fumbled with the black cord of his eyeglasses which had caught on the button of his shoulder strap. "Pretty show it would have been," he announced, with a certain gentle causticity, "if they had hit us."

Then he stood up abruptly, waited for a moment to look out the window where the broad fields were wheeling past in great squares of color, and said: "There are one or two serious cases to-night. We'll go back now."

And he walked down and opened the door beside the closed desk. I saw before me a little narrow vestibule with mahogany walls. I stepped into this vestibule, one short step carried me across the threshold; but in this moment I entered a wholly new world. It was, in absolute truth, a world complete, self-sustained; there was not even the illusion of its having any concern whatever with what was not contained within itself. It was war.

There were, in certain cupboards and certain little rooms opening off the corridor, bandages, gauze, linen, instruments, medicines. There was, too, a compartment of some proportions where a man at a typewriter was making up the nominal roll. Also, in this extraordinary world of war there was a kitchen; the cook asked me in to show me the generous pots of broth simmering on his stoves. But it was the dressing room, with its enameled operating table and its brilliant overhead light, which was the axis of this compact and infinitely tidy little universe. It was in this room, this room built in a train, that it had been decided whether or not men were to live or die.

"Yes, it's a bit difficult—operating here," the doctor admitted. "What with the motion of the train and all." But he added hastily that it was not on board ambulance trains that the true miracles of science and of medicine had come. It was in the dressing stations, in the casualty clearing stations, in shabby little rooms under shell fire, where the light was a lamp or a candle or anything, where water itself was at a premium. "Nobody believed," the doctor said, "that surgeons could do what they have done."
Then we went down a very narrow corridor and, quite suddenly, I found that we had entered the first coach filled with wounded men. It was deep and narrow, with a white, concave roof. But it was above all a very long coach, and running the full length of it were two double tiers of cots. The aisle between these tiers was of good width and miraculously clean. The cots were wide, with thick mattresses.

In each of these cots a man was lying. They were lying as if they were asleep, with their faces turned away from the light. The coach was very still.

I walked down the aisle, following the doctor. I was afraid of the movement of the train throwing me against one of those white cots where those curious, inert, motionless things were. But the doctor was hurrying along quite briskly, and explaining to me the amazing new diseases of this war, talking in a low, veiled, professional tone and looking at his patients each one, as we passed by.

"There's, of course, shell shocks," he said. "General collapse. Nerves simply give way—can't stand it. The wear and the strain, and the noise, the horror and the rest of it——"

"They come home like this——" We had stepped by one of the cots where a man was lying with his face turned straight toward the light. His eyes were closed, his thin, nerveless hands lay, palms upward, on the gray blanket. The slender veins in his wrists showed very clear.

"He's been like that perhaps for days," the doctor said. "Doesn't see, doesn't hear, doesn't feel. Absolutely unconscious. Total collapse.

"Yes, oh, yes, he'll be all right. It's just time, you know. Time and care and patience. Like any other shock—only ten thousand times greater. It's wonderful to see how their memory comes back, slowly, slowly.... You wouldn't believe what man can live through. You wouldn't believe it—it's only flesh and bone, after all, you know.

"Then there's this thing of trench feet—pretty bad that. Slow rot. Wholly new disease. And for that matter, there are plenty of them—not yet even named, some of them. But, of course, it's mostly shrapnel. Shrapnel and amazing things...."

And so, like this, we passed through coach after coach—ninety-five wounded men there were on board. And the doctor was stopping every few steps to look at a dressing or to ask a question. And I was walking behind him, filled with wonder and amazement. I had not known it was like this—the getting wounded men back from war. They were so patient and so pitiful and so happy. And I think that they, too, were sometimes filled with wonder.

For when I stopped to talk to them they said always that it was a miracle, a miracle being on that train.

"I never knew I was goin' to be 'ere," a Tommy told me. He was lying, both of his bandaged feet propped up at the foot of his cot. "They got me in both legs," he explained. "Fair an' square. Shrapnel. Two days I was lyin' out. Two days. No, you wouldn't believe—an' I wouldn't either, hadn't I done it. Frightful it was. H. E. spatterin' 'round everywhere. They were rippin' things open, them two days. Oh, I was sorter goin' out o' me mind toward the end of it.... Don't know where I'd got to—we was pushin' on. Down I went. Down I stayed. Wasn't no good tryin' to crawl.... Yes, I was a bit out o' me mind, thinkin' all sort-a things out there. Two days, an' a night of it thrown in. 'In the legs I'm 'it,' I said to meself. 'Wish they'd blowed off me arms.... I'm done,' I said. But remember 'em gettin' me hout. Two days I'd 'ad. Two days in 'ell.

"Then I was put in a barn, full up it was, an' they went an' strafed that. Busted out a whole side of 'er. Saw 'er cavin' in—frightful noise. 'That's crocked up,' I said.
"An' now I'm 'ere—'ere in a train. It's 'eaven, I call it." ...

Compiled From Sources In The Public Domain

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Smiles & Good Fortune,
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915