companioning, when we were young together.
the serious and the gay in my life
Is Gratefully Dedicated
To S. N. W.
"The story of your Book sounds so good to me that I can hardly wait to see it in print. I cannot express to you how glad I am that you are writing it. Your matchless tales both of your work at home and of your life in France should not be lost. There are few who can look at life with a serious eye, see its pathos and its need, and still be conscious of its whimsicality and its humour; and only he who can see both sides can give all-around help; or rightly interpret it."
L. L. D. A.
I FIRST met Dr. Samuel N. Watson in April, 1916, which everyone who lived through the World War remembers as "the spring of Verdun"---that period of unshed tears when the Germans, having failed to take the great fortress by surprise, were maintaining their furious attacks in order to bleed France white. We Americans, not yet in the War, were expressing our sympathy for the Allies by gifts of money and supplies to relieve the civilian population. George Horace Lorimer, back in Philadelphia, had observed, in a consignment of second-hand clothing being shipped to France, several boxes of evening dresses---mere cumberers, naturally, of good cargo-space. This, he remarked to himself, was not common sense. I was serving in France at the time as war correspondent for his Saturday Evening Post. Forthwith, Lorimer snapped through to me an order for an article telling the American people what France really needed, and what she could worry along without. I scurried from place to place in Paris, and got little substantial information. All our forces of relief had amusing stories about the stuff they found when they opened the cases from America. One enormous box, for example, contained a hundred second-class top hats. They could tell Americans what not to send; as for what to send, and in what proportion, they had only the most hazy ideas. Then, at the end of a discouraging afternoon, I invaded the Avenue de l'Alma and interviewed Dr. Watson.
He was God's gift to the reporter. He knew what he knew and what he did not know. He hadn't done his relief work in Paris alone. He had been scouting through the country, including the war zone, finding out exactly what I wanted to know. "Shoes first!" I remember he said, "The French peasant women, who do the work on the farms nowadays, are going barefooted. Style doesn't matter, but sturdiness does. There must be stocks of old-fashioned shoes selling cheap in America. The French need them. But only the large sizes!" He didn't believe in second-hand clothing at all. It cost too much to transport in proportion to its value. Here again, there must be in the United States much new clothing unsaleable because it had gone out of style, but useful for carrying French families through the winter. I mentioned that instance of the hundred top hats, and he chuckled. "Do you know what became of them?" he asked. "Well, in the old men's homes of France, the inmates are always attending funerals of their fellows. Formerly, only two or three of them had top hats for the occasion. That caused jealousy and dissension. Now, in two homes at least, they'll all attend the funerals properly dressed!"
At this interview, I think, he told me the story, retold in his book, about getting an American harvester for a puzzled department in Northern France. He has forgotten, however, one detail which I have kept in memory ever since. When he had his harvester set up and running, his comrade in this adventure, the French village curé, grew so enthusiastic that he tucked up his soutane and began stacking sheaves behind the machine. Whereupon, Dr. Watson took off his rabat and joined the sport.
He has told how he took me to Millerand, the Minister of War destined to become President of France. He has not told of other eminent Frenchmen whose doors swung for me at his touch. For with both the French and the American Colony, the name of the efficient, agreeable and sterling Dr. Watson was an open sesame during the whole period of the war.
This is the kind of book which fills a professional writer with despair. As he reads it, he finds many things which he would have expressed differently and many others which he would have omitted or expanded. But there is over it all the bloom of the amateur's fine, unfagged enthusiasm---a quality which the professional finds in his own early work, for all its faults, and which he can never recapture. It is more than that; it is a soul-portrait of the old-time American gentleman. Be we better or be we worse, we are not rearing any more Dr. Watsons. Universal charity, faith in the general goodness of mankind, belief that nations will in the end light their way with the lamps of truth and justice---that school of thought seems blasted by the disillusions of the war and of the bad peace. I disagree with many of his opinions on men and measures. For example I still believe that the League of Nations, hampered though it was by its welding with the Treaty of Versailles, might have averted the coming calamity had the United States followed Wilson to the end. As for his League of Peace, attainable when men have new hearts, I submit only that we have been trying that for nineteen hundred years---and look at us! But I would not have him believe any differently. We lost our Dr. Watsons when, somehow, we lost our way. When we find it again we shall, for our good, begin breeding his like again.
New York City.
THIS record of my life must be prefaced by a chapter on Ancestors; for the simple reason that no human life is complete in and of itself; the unseen of every life is more than what is seen of it.
"Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar!"
We know very little of that life which we were before we became a baby by the name of Watson---or any other name; but that life, half-glimpsed in moments of revery, is more, much more than half of what we are to-day; that which we bring with us that "cometh from afar" has within its misty self possibilities of an interpretation of this life's mysterious movements which, if we could but read it right, would make clear to us much of which now we say, "I simply cannot understand it."
It is so with my life, I do not understand it: in one sense it is a continuous story, but it is a story which finds its motive more than often in something which I brought with me when I woke here from that "sleep and a forgetting," and that "something" has expressed itself all along the way in an impulsive, unreasoning outreach for BEAUTY, and that word Beauty is but a common term for the whole gamut of sensation, colour, form, perfume, taste, touch---that whole chromatic scale of vibration which makes up the rainbow of joy.
We say "My life"; but I know that it has not been "my" life; I have lived in it, that is true, but it is far more true that it has been lived for me. It is far more true for all of us that we are lived, than that We Live.
Hence Life cannot intelligently harbour regrets. For of all that we call "our life," what was it which made it what it was; what inspired, motivated its thoughts and doings? Who among us can account intelligently for the motives which were the impulses of a long and varied life? I know that I cannot, except in one way only, which is this---Life is a planned Experience, and as such it is a series of sequences. There have been turning points in my life, and from the decisions there made have flowed consequences which have made me what I am, but the choice of the ways where the paths turned was not wholly mine, else should I be to-day a bitter rebel; should be, but that I know that I have been a part of a Greater One than I, a greater self Whom I call THE LIFE. My faith for living on consists in this---I firmly believe that I have been better than I knew; and seeing and knowing that, in irrefutable clearness, will be the all-recompensing Vision of That Great Day to which I fearlessly look forward.
S. N. W.
Santa Barbara, Calif.