Souvenirs of France II

Notes on the text

(by Max Rives)


[Page 33, Heading] et ce n’est pas une vigilance d’un jour… The five lines in French are a quotation from the preface of a book by another French politician, André Tardieu, called La Paix (The Peace) Payot, Paris, 1921. Its French is particularly affected, and a bit cloudy. It can be freely translated thus:

and it is not vigilance for a day that is called for. Who could measure the scale of the ups and downs that have followed this war, or predict how changing conditions of life, world-wide, would influence events ? GEORGES CLEMENCEAU.


[Page 33, line 9] “World-Domination or Downfall” These expressions of German aggressive intention reflected the fact that Germany, as a single state, had been created by Otto von Bismarck as recently as 1871, in a world in which her size and industrial strength were not matched by military power, overseas possessions, or trading links.

[Page 34, line 4] “Furor Teutonicus” The fury of the Teutons (Germans). an expression from ancient Roman times, thought to be coined by the poet Lucan, and used of the German tribes, who – unlike the Gauls – were never conquered by the Romans, and whose fierce fighting qualities were legendary.

[Page 34, line 5] ira Normanorum Wrath of the Norsemen, an echo of a phrase from an old English prayer, common during the time of the Viking raids on Britain from the 8th to 11th centuries: From the fury of the Norsemen, Good Lord deliver us ! ‘

[Page 34, line 12] Agadir a port on the south-west coast of Morocco, within what had been agreed to be a French ‘sphere of influence’. In 1911 the German government sent a warship there to “protect the interests of German citizens”, testing Anglo-French resolve. War seemed a serious possibiity, and the Gernans were forced to withdraw in the face of a firm common stance by Britain and France.

[Page 34, line 15] “Fi de manteau quand il fait beau” “In fair weather, forget your coat.” This is a resumé of the British attitude towards the menaces from Germany in the opinion of Kipling in 1933.

[Page 34, lines 16-16] Peace being one hundred years old… The last major European conflict had ended in 1815, when the British and Prussians had defeated the army of Napoleon at Waterloo.

[Page 34, line 23] the claims of “social reform” on the national purse reforming Liberal governments, strongly disapproved of by Kipling, were in power in England between 1906 and 1914, and in these years he constantly campaigned for stronger armed forces for defence against future dangers.

[Page 35, line 10] goshe The ‘goshe’ of the Colonel of the 29th is of course ‘notre gauche’, i.e. ‘our left’, speaking of armies.

[Page 35, line 14] Gustave Le Bon French writer (1841-1931), theoretician of colonialism, and ultra-nationalist (right), who believed in ‘crowd psychology’ and ’emprise morale’ (moral ascendancy) as tools to govern peoples.

[Page 35, line 23] Monsieur Clemenceau See the note below.

[Page 36, line 2] the siege of ’70 During the Franco-Prussian War Paris was besieged by the Prussians.

[Page 36, line 8] the little Algerian copybooks the education of colonial peoples in French language and culture.

[Page 36, line 19] Maréchal Lyautey builder of the French colonial empire. Governor of Morocco.

[Page 37, line 12] poilus slang, meaning ‘soldiers’. (literally ‘hairy ones’).

[Page 37, line 16] Faut pas s’en faire ‘Don’t worry !’ or ‘No problem’..

[Page 38, line 25] pubble misprint for ‘pebble’. (see the Sussex Edition)

[Page 39, line 8] his dossier his charge-sheet, setting out what had happened.

[Page 40, lines 3-5] His countrymen repudiated … all the arrangements he had made The United States Congress rejected membership of the League of Nations, proposed by President Woodrow Wilson, and thus any responsibility for collective security in Europe. Kipling explains, with the idealism of his later years, why the USA could not get involved in the European framework that he had envisaged and pressed for:

But a people whose origins, ex necessitate (by necessity) must have abjured, individually and in writing, all European connections, do not readily embrace external responsibilities.

This was very much the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, and of the Constitution of the USA. But as Kipling points out, the consequences for Europe in the post-war years were grave. In earlier years he had frequently urged the United States to take its share of responsibility – with the British – for safeguarding civilisation. See “The White Man’s Burden”.

[Page 41, line 1] her heart had changed The ORG points out: “but we knew in 1939 that Germany’s had not changed’. Today, with hindsight, we have a greater understanding of the factors which led to instability in Europe and the re-emergence of German aggressiveness, and of the value of collective security in a dangerous world.

[Page 41, line 12] It was magnificent , and it was the first step of the real war which began at a quarter-past eleven on the 11th November 1918. Kipling had been pessimistic about Germany’s intentions throughout the years leading up to the Great War, and was equally pessimistic fifteen years after the Armistice which ended it. He clearly felt that the allies had been very much too easy on the Germans in the Peace Settlement.

[Page 41, line 22] great camions equipped like ships the specially equipped trucks used for the recovery of corpses from the primary cemeteries, to bring them into big, ordered ones . See

[Page 42, line 2] “Monsieur, this was Flers” The destruction of towns and villages in the battle areas had been appalling. (right)

[Page 44, lines 3-5] the French had effrontément exagéré les revendications des régions devastées ‘The French had shamelessly exaggerated the claims of the devastated regions.’ Not a view that would commend itself to the people Kipling met among the ruins of the battlefields.

[Page 45, line 21] chiffonage ‘bother’ (literally ‘creases’ as when a piece of fabric is crumpled up).

[Page 47, line 3] they were serenely occupied with their own affairs The political situation of the French colonies was perhaps not entirely as euphoric as the French authorities and Kipling believed.

‘Emprise morale’ (moral ascendancy) and corruption did mask it for a while until after the end of WW2. In the 1960s France, like Britain, divested herself of most of her overseas empire. This process of ‘decolonisation’ emphasised the political sense and astuteness of Général de Gaulle (left), who gave independence to Algeria in 1962, in sensing the need for it, and succeeding in running the operation more or less smoothly.

[Page 47, line 13] the mystery baffled me Kipling was puzzled by the apparent calm and ease of the French regime in Algeria. But Algeria was exceptional. This was because it was the one colony that had a large population of what were called ‘pieds-noirs’ (black feet = not natives=of European origin). And that ’emprise morale’ there tended to be more akin to ‘political (if not physical) constraint’ (p. 48, l. 12). She had to do the job herself.

[Page 47, line 24] détente relaxation, easing.

[Page 48, lines 13-14] “It is Paris … on whom we depend in the last resort…” What Kipling says of how peace was obtained in the French colonies by corruption (and he apparently was not informed of stronger methods), makes one wish he could have been as clear-sighted about their real position vis à vis France, as he was on the wider political situation in Europe.

[Page 48, line 20] the Niger the great African river that runs in a vast semi-circle from the vicinity of Timbuktu (Tombouctou) eastwards into Nigeria and the sea.

[Page 49, line 2] Mahdi the Sudanese leader of resistance to the British at the time of Fashoda, who figures in The Light that Failed.

[Page 49, line 8] Chandernagore in the time when Kipling was active in India, this was one of seven French “comptoirs” (trading posts) in India. It is twenty miles upstream from Calcutta, and was not returned to India until 1950. Kipling refers to it in The City of Dreadful Night (page 240, line 19) and three times in Kim (p. 231 line 23, p. 320 line 26, and p. 339 line 26) all from Hurree Chunder Mookerjee, who came from Bengal and had friends in Chandernagore.

[Page 49, line 15] Ang-Kor a huge complex of temples and other palaces remaining in the jungle of Cambodia from the capital of a Khmer kingdom of the 9th century. A model (or remains) of the façade of the temple of Ang-Kor Wat was erected as the show-piece of the “Exposition Coloniale” in the Bois de Vincennes (a park on the Eastern outskirt of Paris) in 1930.


[Page 50, line 20] confrère colleague.

[Page 51, line 13] one very small, very accessible window one is surprised to catch Kipling as a plundering tourist !

[Page 51, line 25] Albi county seat of the département of Tarn in Southern France. Noted for its cathedral, entirely built in rose-red brick. (left)

[Page 52, line 6] at Chartres (right) THE model for a Gothic cathedral; also famous for its magnificent location, dominating on all sides the immense plain of Beauce. The Kiplings frequently stayed at the ‘Le Grand Monarque’ hotel, close to the Cathedral. See also his verse “Chartres Windows”.

[Page 53, lines 8-9] from Marianne Nickname of the (French) République, as represented originally by the bust (left) of a young woman wearing a “Bonnet Phrygien” (Phrygian cap), which appeared in 1792, during the French Revolution. The image was later more freely represented, and is still officially used, eg on postage stamps; it is present in the Main (Wedding) Room of all French Town Halls.

There is a Service, in France, called “Le Mobilier National” (“National Furniture”) that stores all objects of furniture and decoration belonging to the State, and lends them to official Services, such as “Préfectures” that have a role of representation in the Country in addition to their administrative role.

[Page 53, line 11] the Élysée palace built in 1718 ; assigned to the French Président de la République in 1848, then again in 1870.

[Page 54, line 1] en ce coing sont les Saxons … :

In that corner are Saxons, Estrelins, Ostrogotz, and Alemans people in olden days invincible, nowadays derelict and subjugated by a little crippled man. They claim from us vengeance, succours, restitution of their first good sense and liberty antique.

[Translated by the Editor]

This is by Francois Rabelais (1494-1553) in “Le Quart Livre” ie “The Fourth Book”. It is in the characteristic old French of that celebrated author. He knew several languages, hence in the middle of the text, we find Aber keist that is German, meaning ‘fallen’, ‘destitute’, ‘derelict’; from the tongue of the lansquenets (German mercenary soldiers) (!).

Aber geids is also found in the “Briefve déclaration”, a sort of glossary appended to the Quart Livre by Rabelais. The “little crippled man” is supposed to be the Emperor Charles the Fifth (1500-1558), (left) who suffered from gout, and ruled over the Holy Roman Empire, which included Spain, the German states, and the Netherlands.

Obviously, Kipling is referring to the Germans and their allies ; but what is the significance of the “little crippled man”. Is he perhaps Adolf Hitler ? And is he here to mean that the “victory” of the Allies was fragile ?

[Page 54, line 9] to uproot the idea of boche responsibility … It is interesting to see that early in the inter-war years, and in spite of his political ideas, Kipling had seen and understood that, as he predicts here, the Germans would try again.

[Page 56, line 14] Orphée aux Enfers Orpheus in the Underworld, opera buffa (light opera) by Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880), not to be confused with Orpheus and Eurydice by Christoph Gluck (1714-1787).

[Page 57, line 8] Poincaré Raymond Poincaré was Prime Minister of France from 1911 to 1912, and President from 1913 to 1920. He was a conservative politician, and a hard-liner against Germany.

[Page 58, line 11] Lorrainer This is an error on Kipling’s part, since the French name for a citizen of Lorraine is actually “Lorrain”. Lorraine (of which the principal city is Nancy), and Alsace, were annexed by the Germans at the end of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, and returned to France in 1919 under the Peace Settlement.

[Page 58, line 12] Clemenceau Georges Clemenceau (right), 1841-1929, journalist and statesman, was Prime Minister of France from 1906-1909 and 1917-1920. He is commonly nicknamed ‘le Tigre’ (the Tiger) for his fierce determination as a wartime leader.

[Page 58, line 19] Thiers and Gambetta Thiers (1797-1877) and Gambetta (1838-1882) were important statesmen and politicians, in – respectively – the middle and the second part of the XIXth century.

[Page 58, line 21] Rochefort politician and journalist (1830-1913), opponent of Napoléon III, and exiled ; thereafter promoting ultra-nationalist ideas.

[Page 59, line 21] then the accolade An embrace. This was quite common between men in those times, and is again nowadays; it is required at the ceremony of presenting an official décoration, such as Légion d’Honneur.

[Page 59, line 22] L’Homme Enchaîné ‘Man in Chains’. Clemenceau’s political journal, originally titled “L’Homme Libre” (The Free Man), changed its title when press censorship was instituted in 1915.

©Max Rives 2008 All rights reserved