A Popular History of The Great War/Volume 1/Page 122

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FRANCE IN WARTIME


...with Russia and the letting loose of European war. But nothing could stay any longer the Austro-Germans in their mad coup. Suddenly Germany took steps to mobilize her forces and at the same time dispatched an ultimatum to Petrograd, and put to the French government a question which was in itself but an ultimatum in disguise.

The whole of France lived through those last days of waiting with calmness and gravity. No one concealed from himself the danger; everyone perceived distinctly the threat and its consequences for the country and for himself—in fact, it was this clear perception of danger which supported the efforts made to avert it, and which sustained the hope that the wise governments of the Triple Entente would succeed in turning it aside. On the afternoon of July 31 the senators and the most influential deputies of all groups of opinion assembled at the Palais Bourbon, under the leadership of the socialist leader Jaurès, to examine what final sacrifice could be made to maintain peace and to spare civilization the horrors of war. These men of good intentions could only record their own impotence.

The same evening Jaurès was killed by a madman. General consternation ensued. Jaurès was a great force; he wielded in France a powerful influence over the masses and enjoyed considerable prestige abroad. By every party it was recognized that his disappearance at such a moment was for France an irreparable loss. Already on the previous evening, in his journal L'Humanité, his patriotic spirit had found noble expression in advocating national unity, on the ground that from that moment there was no question of politics, but of the country's very existence. This stupid crime—the act of an isolated individual—brought to a premature end the career of a man whose honour was unassailable; at a moment, no doubt, when Jaurès was about to become "le clairon du patriotisme"—to borrow a phrase from Gambetta—at a moment when his eloquence might have become an instrument of national defence.

For a moment reprisals were feared on the part of indignant socialists, desirous of avenging their respected chief. But who could be made responsible for the act of a maniac? In a letter to Madame Jaurès, the president of the republic expressed his regrets at the "abominable attack," at a time when "national unity was more than ever necessary." The government placarded all Paris, and caused to be reproduced in every news-...

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