One of the frescoes of Puvis de Chavannes in the Pantheon, the last to the left, represents an old woman leaning over a stone terrace and gazing at the town beneath her with its moonlit roofs and its surrounding plain, looking bluish in the night. The city is asleep, but the holy woman watches and prays. She stands tall and upright as a lily. Her lamp, which is seen at the entrance of her house, is one long stem illuminated by the flame. She, too, is like this lamp. Her emaciated body would be nothing without her ardent face. Her serenity can only come from work well done and confidence in the future. Lutetia, represented in this picture by Genevieve, is not anxious; yet she listens as if she might hear once more the threatening approach of Attila. It is because she knows that the barbarians may come back again, and can only be stopped by invincible faith.
As long as France keeps her belief, she is secure. The life and death of a Guynemer are an act of faith in immortal France.
The ballades of olden times used to conclude with an envoi addressed to some powerful person and invariably beginning with King, Queen, Prince or Princess. But the poet was occasionally at a loss, for, as Theodore de Banville observes in his Petit traite de Poesie Francaise, “everybody has not a prince handy to whom to dedicate his ballade.”
Guynemer’s biography is of such a nature that it must seem like a poem: why not, then, conclude it with an envoi? I have no difficulty in finding a Prince, for I shall select him from among the French schoolboys. There is a little Paul Bailly, not quite twelve years old, from Bouclans, a village in Franche-Comte, who wrote a beautiful theme on Guynemer: he shall be my Prince. And through him I shall address all the French schoolboys or girls, in all the French towns and villages.
Little Prince, I have no doubt that you love arithmetic, and I will give you accurate figures which will satisfy your taste. You will like to know that Guynemer flew for 665 hours and 55 seconds in all, which I added up from his flying notebooks: his last flight is not recorded in them, because it never stopped.
As for the number of fights in which he was engaged, that is difficult to ascertain. Guynemer himself did not seem anxious to be sure about it. But it must be more than 600, and might well be 700 or 800. Your Guynemer, our Guynemer, will never be surpassed: not because he forgot to hand over to his successors, rivals, and avengers the sacred flame which in France can never go out, but because genius is an exceptional privilege, and because the present methods of fighting in the air are not in favor of single combats but engage whole units.
You will also love to hear about Guynemer as an inventor, and the creator of a magic airplane. Some day this airplane will be exhibited; and perhaps some of your little friends have already seen at the Invalides the machine in which Guynemer brought down nineteen German airplanes. On November 1, 1917, thousands of Parisians visited it; and it was strewn with magnificent bunches of chrysanthemums, to which many people added clusters of violets.