Saturday, December 24, 2016

smiling at the dead ashes of their fires

Little by little the mass of half-dead humanity became so dense, so deaf, so torpid – or perhaps it should be said so happy – that Marshal Victor, their heroic defender against twenty thousand Russians under Wittgenstein, was actually compelled to cut his way by force through this forest of men, so as to cross the Beresina with the five thousand heroes whom he was lending to the Emperor. The miserable creatures preferred to be trampled and crushed to death rather than stir from their places, and died without a sound, smiling at the dead ashes of their fires, forgetful of France.

(Honoré de Balzac, Farewell, 1830, tr Ellen Marriage)

In the mean-time, however, he fitted up a room in a cottage near the new building, and by degrees made little improvements in the cottage till it is become so comfortable that though the large house is finished, he has no wish to remove, and seems, indeed, to have no motive, as the Cottage is large enough to accommodate himself and his mother and sister and two or three friends, and as they are all pleased with the snugness and comfort of their present modest dwelling – indeed, he often regrets that he built the larger house …

(Dorothy Wordsworth, Letters of Dorothy Wordsworth: a Selection, 1985, ed. Alan G. Hill; from a letter to Lady Beaumont sent on Thursday, December 28th, 1809)

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