Before leaving this digression, I would further remind the reader that nowhere in the mass of the British population is this strange theory of German supremacy accepted, and that outside the countries I have named not even the academic classes consider it seriously. In the eyes of the Frenchman, the Italian, and the Pole, the North German is an inferior. His numbers and his equipment for war do not affect that sentiment, for it is recognized that all he has and does are the product of a lesson carefully learned, and that his masters always were and still are the southern and the western nations, with their vastly more creative spirit, their hardier grip in body as in mind, their cleaner souls, and their more varied and developed ideals.
If this was the mood of the German people when the war in its first intense moment had, as it were, cast into a permanent form the molten popular soul, what was that of the nation which the Germans knew in their hearts, in spite of the most pitiable academic illusion, to be the permanent and implacable enemy—I mean the French people?
Comprehend the mood of the French, contrast and oppose it to that of the Germans, and you will have viewed almost in its entirety the spiritual theatre of this gigantic struggle. No don’s talk of “Slav” or “Teuton,” of “progressive” or “backward” nations, mirrors in any way the realities of the great business. This war was in some almost final fashion, and upon a scale quite unprecedented, the returning once again of those conflicting spirits which had been seen over the multitudes in the dust of the Rhone valley when Marius came up from Italy and met the chaos in the North. They had met again in the damp forests of the Ardennes and the vague lands beyond the Rhine, when the Roman auxiliaries of the decline pushed out into the Germanies to set back the frontiers of barbarism. It was the clash between strong continuity, multiple energies, a lucid possession of the real world, a creative proportion in all things—all that we call the ancient civilization of Europe—and the unstable, quickly growing, quickly dissolving outer mass which continually learns its lesson from the civilized man, and yet can never perfectly learn that lesson; which sees itself in visions and has dreams of itself: which now servilely accepts the profound religion of its superior; now, the brain fatigued by mysteries, shakes off that burden which it cannot comprehend.
By an accident comparatively recent, the protagonist of chaos in these things happened to be that rigid but curiously amorphous power which Prussia has wielded for many years to no defined end. The protagonist upon the other side of the arena was that same Romanized Gaul which had ever since the fall of the Empire least lost the continuity with the past whereby we live.
But the defender of ancient things was (again by an accident in what is but a moment for universal history) the weaker power. In the tremendous issue it looked as though numbers and values had fallen apart, and as though the forces of barbarism, though they could never make, would now at last permanently destroy.