A Popular History of The Great War/Volume 1/Page 133
retreat, which might cause the worst disasters to be apprehended. But even while repeating to themselves that they would know how to resist the invaders, that they would "nibble" at them (according to the phrase attributed to General Joffre), Frenchmen refused to admit the material superiority of the German army, the preponderance of scientific over heroic warfare. In conversation an advocate was always found to maintain that it was to the personal value of the French soldier as a combatant that Germany was indebted for the two great checks to her western offensive; to prove that, in spite of the great number of their machine guns and their heavy artillery, the German armies of Strasbourg and Metz which rushed upon the eastern line of defence of France failed; and notwithstanding repeated efforts, were never able to break the barricade of the four great entrenched camps of Belfort, Epinal, Toul and Verdun. And in what triumphant tones would the speaker announce that the enemy had not even succeeded in taking Nancy, an open town, while the French secured the summits of the Vosges and penetrated Alsace.
The French people grew daily more conscious of the seriousness of the conflict in which they were engaged. The enthusiasm of the opening days gave place gradually to uneasy calmness, and in spite of all the fears which might naturally be engendered by the deceptive development of hostilities, the legitimate anguish experienced by all before the menace of invasion never assumed the proportions of panic. The laconic nature of official communiqués left room for optimism. They confined themselves to speaking of the operations in Lorraine and Alsace, so that nothing was known by the people at large of the formidable battles of Mons and Charleroi. It must not be forgotten that the newspapers were forbidden to publish the German communiqués. Still, rumours ran, putting things at their worst, in which the very exaggeration prevented sensible people from giving any credence, though they furnished Gallic imagination with a plentiful pabulum, since even the sturdiest optimists found in them a reason for contemplating disasters, in the possibility of which they refused to believe, but the consequences of which everyone accustomed himself beforehand to foresee. Thus the surprise was less violent when bad news arrived.
The manner in which news was distilled, a drop at a time, deserves to be related. The government seems to have dreaded