THE EXPERIENCES OF A SURGEON IN THE FRANCO-GERMAN WAR.* Taz
lessons taught by some books to their readers take a long time to spread. In introducing his amusing remi- niscences to the world, Mr. Stacy Marks once informed us that they were written for his own profit and pleasure, neither to fill an admitted want, nor to gratify the solicitations of admiring friends. It would be idle to speculate how many prefaces have since then been written in defiance of those salutary canons ; and when we learn from Dr. Ryan's little introduction, first, that he disclaims all pretence to literary merit, that his book was nothing but a series of notes and jottings taken in spare momenta during the rush and turmoil of war, written solely as a number of descriptive letters to his friends ; and then that nothing was further from his mind than the idea of publication for the period of a quarter of a century, when at last their friendly importunity induced him to depart from his purpose, without apparently any of the diffi- culties as to publication, of which the more confirmed scribbler is so apt to complain,—we cannot help thinking that the doctor dotb protest too much, and start with a prejudice which the reading of the first few pages does, we admit at once, go a long way to dispel. For the opening of the book is really delightful, and gives promise of a style which the later part scarcely succeeds in realising. Admitting that it requires the force and language of Zola to give any forcible pictures of the stirring facts and scenes of the war, Dr. Ryan has in fact provided a kind of material for a Zola to work upon. More than once the vivid imagination of the Irish author comes out in the graphic suggestion of some true story which might grow into very effective fiction in the hands of a master of the art. Particularly suggestive in this direction is it at first, where he gives an account of the manner in which he, a mere stripling at the date of Worth and Weissenburg, studying medicine in Dublin in his twenty-first year, was induced by his deep sympathy with the sufferings of France, first, to collect from his friends all the materiel he could procure to provide linen for the wounded, and then to do all that in him lay to allay their sufferings by going out to them in the capacity of surgeon. The story of his adventures in trying for the position is told with infinite spirit and a buoyancy of youth- fulness which makes it very pleasant reading. The dangers and excitements of the Paris streets at the time of the out- break of the German War were never better pictured and seized upon by any of the correspondents of the day :—
" These simple observations of the boy 'at his first start in life,'" he says, "make me smile as I read them over. Yet I do not think that I ought to suppress them ; for who is there that has not felt the indescribable charm of those early days, when the commonest things in our journeying fill the mind as if they were a wonder in themselves ? And what is there in the grown man's travels to equal that opening glimpse of a world we have so often heard talked about, yet never have seen with our eyes until now ? "
Writing under these impressions, the Doctor gives us his vivid impressions of the bright city of Brussels, with the inevitable result upon the wanderer's mind of rather dis- counting Paris for those who see the Belgian miniature first.
It is a common experience of man which we have often heard remarked upon, but never before seen noted. And what a lesson to the Briton, for some nameless cause convinced that one of his many reasons for existence is to teach the world the lessons of sanitation, at the cost of opening all his drains and altering all his by-laws on an average once a month, is contained in such a passage as this :—" One could live here [in Brussels] a lifetime and never know that such a thing as dirt existed," after the experience of "smoky London." Dr. Ryan's diffi- culties in Paris in obtaining the place on which his heart was set were very considerable. He was referred from office to office and department to department after the invariable precedent of officialism in general, and of French officialism in particular, alternating the tiring work with close observa-
tion of the scenes he saw. Going out for a stroll on the Boulevards, he—
"heard the trampling of horses coming down the street, mingled with the loud cheering of the populace. It was a troop of Cuirassiers, and in another minute I was in the midst of a seething crowd, and could see nothing around me but a sea of hands, hats, and heads in commotion. The civilians, who were in a wild state of excitement, cheered the troops, • Vive (sic) lee Cuirassiers,'
• With an Ambulance during the Franco-German War, &c., 1870-71. By Chariot
E. Ryan, &c. London: John Murray. 1896.
while the dragoons in return shouted Berlin,' and Vive in
France,' not Vive l'Empereur.' When they had passed, the ex- citement continued in another form, for a desperate-looking mob marched up and down in detachments as they had done upon the previous night, with flags flying and banners waving, singing all the while La Marseillaise ' and the 'Champs de la Patrie,' with intervening shouts of A Berlin !' All this was of great interest to me, especially the singing. When the crowd joined in the chorus of their National Anthem the effect was something never to be forgotten. To avoid being jostled by the mob I took a place on the top of an omnibus. It was dusk, and as we came down the Champs Elysees, the beautifully illuminated gardens, with their cafes chantants, merry-go-rounds, and bowers—sur- rounded by the most fanciful and pretty devices imaginable, and lighted up with miniature lamps—together with the lively din of music and singing, followed by rounds of applause, made me feel transported for the moment to fairyland. But it was a short- lived delusion ; and who would imagine, with all this folly, at once so frivolous and so French, that the great tragedy of war was being enacted around us. However, that such was the case over here was abundantly evident, for it was the sole topic of conversation. Soldiers were everywhere in the streets : the public vehicles and omnibuses were crammed with them : their officers seemed to monopolise half the private carriages ; they crowded the public buildings, and soldiers' heads appeared out of half the street windows. I had always heard that Frenchmen were a highly excitable people, and the truth of that saying was never so clearly demonstrated. Here they were in their thousands, moving about in a state of restless, purposeless commotion, singing songs from morn to midnight, and, as it appeared to me, most of them quite out of their senses."
The comment is not unnatural, especially in so young an observer, and presents a curious contrast to Dandet's striking remark upon the silence of London. The gesticulations of a French crowd are always at odds with the comparatively phlegmatic surface of the Englishman. But human nature remains the same at the bottom. It is too much to expect that a city in a country's centre should show any more tangible evidences of a war on the frontier than those described by the Doctor, which were surely tangible enough. The imitations during the Commune, at all events, became sufficiently close and serious. And, in a lesser degree, the shouts of "A Berlin" have found a kind of parallel here of late in the national outbursts of "Union-Jackery " in the courts and music-halls, for no very intelligible reason except that the Boers beat us off for the third time, on their own ground and with their own weapons, which they could hardly help doing, and that the German Emperor sent an impulsive
telegram, as portentous as Tiberius's letter from Capri,
though a good deal shorter. But the telegraphic example has been so largely followed by Royalties and others since then, that the original is already almost forgotten.
We are, however, rather making free with the opening of Dr. Ryan's book, which amused and interested us a good deal, and will repay any one for the reading who likes the study of what we may call the raw material of history or romance. When the Doctor has got over his difficulties and joined the ambulance, it becomes for the most part reading of another kind, and, if we may say so, appropriate rather to a medical journal than anything else. A short time ago the present writer met with a lady, herself an artist of eminence, who stated that she objected altogether to " Trilbys " in a novel or on the stage, as a professional necessity which should be confined to the profession and kept out of books. And, as a comparison, she instanced the necessary operations of surgery as appropriate to surgeries and not to general print. We certainly find much of Dr. Ryan's work liable to this stricture, and shall not follow him ourselves into the painful mysteries of amputations and hypodermic injections, with all the melancholy pictures of horror and suffering and pain, mental and bodily, which accompany them, and supply, we may say at once, some touching episodes sympathetically told. But his powers of description do not desert him, and he has plenty of use for them in passages of unprofessional interest. When at Orleans, for instance, he paints the— "Construction of a pontoon-bridge across the Loire, for the more speedy passage of troops. The Germans, some weeks previously to the time we arrived in Orleans, had attempted a similar bridge; but before they had half finished it a flood came one night and swept the whole thing away, to the immense amusement and delight of the Orleaners. The pontoon-bridge which the French now constructed showed not only the perfection to which military engineering had been brought, but also the acquaintance which the natives possessed with the sudden and violent floods which were wont unexpectedly to swell the current of that great river, causing its waters to rise in a few hours so as to overflow its banks and flood the adjoining country. The bridge was com- posed, not of pontoon-boats, but of large barges, which had been used on the river for the freight of merchandise. These were
connected with one another by pine-trees, which had themselves been lashed together by spars. A rough idea of the size of the bridge will be given if I state that it took thirty-three such barges to make its length, and that they were about 10 ft. apart."
We doubt if the results of the War go very far to justify the preference for French engineering as a whole ; but the passage is a fair instance of the Doctor's Celtic sympathies, which go heart and soul with the Gauls. The description of the Château Renardier, the shattered house of the Colombiers, when they returned to live in it after the battle of Coulmiers, "the solitary French victory in that disastrous war," and the gracious figure of Madame Colombier herself, bring to an appropriate end a book of rather provokingly varied merit.
We are, however, certainly not disposed to give it half such a. bad name as does that apologetic preface. The importunities
of friends are not a valid excuse for publishing what is not worth reading, and quite unnecessary for publishing what is.