French Composition

   For three days Corinth has been at the mercy of the flames. The walls of this beautiful city have fallen under the repeated blows of the Roman battering-rams and the works of art it contained are the booty of the ignorant and barbarous soldiers, of consul Mummius and of his legionaries. Nearly all of the inhabitants have been massacred, the women taken away into slavery, and all that are left of this so civilized population are the children. Fierce Mummius has decided their fate; the noble children will be put to death; it is to make an example to cities in revolt; but what good would it be to have the sons of slaves murdered? Clemency on their part could be to Rome's advantage. But how can they be singled out? Mummius remembered that all free Greeks knew how to write and he ordered all the young Corinthians to be brought to him and be made to write out a few lines; he waits for them in the public square, surrounded by several lieutenants.
   Soon all the children arrived, some still small, others already grown and about to reach their fourteenth year. In front of them and behind them houses were collapsing in flames with hideous cracking sounds. The sinister glow of the conflagration gave a terrifying spectral appearance to the shadows of the soldiers and the ruined houses. The streets were stained with blood, strewn with corpses, the sky was on fire. Many of these children could see the corpses of their fathers outstretched and mutilated close by, many could hear the moans of their mothers who, shackled hand and foot, were being taken off into slavery in a foreign land, far away from their children and the bodies of their husbands, far away from their sweet homeland. Bewildered in the midst of these sinister ruins, the smallest ones were trembling from head to toe, begging for their lives to be spared. They had seen so many people massacred without pity, men and even the elderly, that they hardly dared hope but steeled themselves with all of their strength against death. They could not weep, so great was their anguish. The suffering of the older ones was perhaps sharper although more contained; they understood the danger of their present situation more clearly and the horror of their existence if they obtained mercy by their vanquishers now that they had lost everything. They did not utter a word thinking that they had been brought here to await their death sentence. All that could be heard were sighs, lamentations, stifled sobs, a few words in a low voice, a last goodbye from a small child to his friend.
   They were all very surprised when they were brought writing tablets. One after the other they wrote under the gaze of Mummius and his lieutenants, asking themselves what was the meaning of this strange action; and it was truly moving to see all those poor little faces mad with fear and despair, imploring on their tablets for mercy from their vanquishers or permission to go back to their mothers.
   Tablets had been passed to nearly all of the children. There were only a few remaining, and all those who did not know how to write had been separated from the others. The soldiers approached a beautiful young boy who could have been about thirteen with a pure face with a beautiful outline, with a proud and courageous look. All his friends had tried to mollify the soldiers. He looked at them with scorn, quickly took the tablet, and with an untrembling hand, alone and abandoned in the middle of these cruel men and this city in flames, he wrote out two lines from Homer: "Oh thrice and fourfold blessed those that die in battle on the fields of Ilium!" Mummius stood close by him with his lieutenants to examine what he had written; when the beautiful young Greek boy had boldly handed him back his tablet, the savage Roman could not stop himself from regarding the young hero with interest; agitation showed on his face and a furtive tear fell from his eye.
   On the day that all of Greece had succumbed to the blows of an uncouth and barbarous enemy, this act of courage was a beautiful example of the moral benefits of literary study. Certainly this boy's nature was noble and generous, but what inspired this glorious act in him was the example of the godlike Ulysses, the divine verses of Homer. How many acts of heroism have no other cause than admiration. How many proud and generous sentiments have no other cause than poetry. Literary studies allow us to disdain death, they raise us above worldly things by speaking of spiritual things; they purify all our feelings; and this rational, almost philosophical courage is much finer than physical courage, than the intrepidity of the senses because in reality it is the courage of the spirit. And there is no need to believe that it costs us. It is filled with an infinite calmness of the soul and a legitimate dignity, through which we soar above life and its troubles, and poetry, that radiant flower, makes beautiful souls bloom as though in fertile soil. It brings forth its perfume and its grace, and also its magnificence and its strength. It makes the air around us more pure and more wholesome; it inflames us with that divine love that carries within itself its own recompense. And is it not also a poetic symbol of Greece's destiny that this beautiful young boy repeated one last time to his dying homeland the name of its poet and its heroes and lulled its final slumber with such divine and harmonious music?

School work written c. 1884 at the age of about thirteen.


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