The French in Algiers . . .

THE FRENCH IN ALGIERS. Wiley & Putnam’s Library of Choice Reading, No. VIII.

  These two narratives, inartificially put together, and by men of the very commonest stamp, are interesting by bringing home to us scenes before known vaguely or scantily through official bulletins and newspaper scraps. There is also something refreshing in reading of the men of instinct, such as the Bedouins, even when the half-cultivated men who write know how to see nothing so clearly in them as their brutal and ferocious traits. The sketch of Abd-el-Kader, by De France, is not without interest though from so superficial an observer.

  Lampiny, the author of the first narrative, excites some thought from the position in which he stands. He is driven forth by the inward need which urged the knights of old to win their spurs, the need of trying whether one dares risk health, happiness, life itself, to fulfil an obligation, the need of trying, in fact, whether there be life enough in us to make us worthy living. When a fiery youth finds no test ready for him on the verge of manhood, he seeks one; thus did this Clemens Lampiny. But in how poor a form, with how ignorant an eye! Is it not very sad, at this period of the world, when all true warfare is moral and mental, and a hundred good causes at every step plead for defenders to see a young man go to Algiers to chase Arabs to their dens, and help poor mercenaries die of heat and fatigue, they know not why. Could a German in this age of the world fancy he could best prove his manhood in such scenes as the following?

  “After a short rest we started again, and the first glimmer of light showed the huts of the tribe straight before us. An old Kabyle was at that moment going out with a pair of oxen to plough; as soon as he saw us he uttered a fearful howl and fled, but a few well-directed shots brought him down. In one moment the grenadiers and voltigeurs, who were in advance, broke through the hedge of prickly pear which generally surrounds a Kabyle village, and the massacre began. Strict orders had been given to kill all the men, and only to take the women and children prisoners; for we followed the precept of ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’”

  “A few men only reeled half-awake out of their huts, but most of them still lay fast asleep; not one escaped death. The women and children rushed, howling and screaming, out of their burning huts, in time to see their husbands and children butchered. One young woman, with an infant at her breast, started back at the sight of strange men, exclaiming, ‘Mohammed! Mohammed!’ and ran into her burning hut. Some soldiers sprang forward to save her, but the roof had already fallen in, and she and her child perished in the flames.”

  No wonder such experiences should affect a young, hopeful nature as is described in the following passage:

  “I have suffered a severe loss; the only friend I had found here died a few days ago. Similar tastes and a like fate had drawn us together. He was of a good family at Berlin, as the high cultivation of his mind sufficiently proved. (! !) But an unfortunate longing for excitement and adventure had driven him from home. I am convinced that he died of home-sickness. He had never served before, and could not, therefore, brook this brutal and savage life so well as I could, and a fever hastened his death. He had written to his father for money to obtain his discharge, under the conviction that he could not endure his life here, and was in the daily expectation of an answer. His imagination already transported him back to his family; but he grew weaker every day, and at length had to be carried to the hospital, where I visited him daily when my turn of service did not prevent me. When I went yesterday and inquired after him, one of the attendants pointed to the bed; on approaching it, I found him dead. No one, not ever his next neighbor, had heard him die. He was buried next morning with no kind of ceremony, and I followed him to his grave alone. It is well for him that he is at peace! His spirit was too gentle to bear the sight of all this cruelty and wretchedness. One must case one’s heart in triple brass to bear existence here at all.”

  ’Tis pity, indeed, that in the age of Hegel a young man should thus throw away in so absurd a manner, life and its glorious chances, through the attempt to become self-conscious. Let not thoughtful men grow weary of repeating again and again, thoughts proper to the present day, fancying they are familiar by this time to every one. Thoughtful men! be not weary! ye who are the salt of the earth; every where it needs your savour yet.*

“The French in Algiers . . .” New-York Daily Tribune, 22 May 1845, p. 1.