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Edith Cavell
by [?]

Edith Cavell[1]

To-day, in honouring the memory of Miss Edith Cavell, we honour not only the heroine who fell in the midst of her labours of love and piety, we honour also those, wherever they may be, who have accomplished or will yet accomplish the same sacrifice and who are ready, in like circumstances, to face a like death.

We are told by Thucydides that the Athenians of the age of Pericles–who, to the honour of humanity be it said, had nothing in common with the Athenians of to-day–were accustomed, each winter during their great war, to celebrate at the cost of the State the obsequies of those who had perished in the recent campaign. The bones of the dead, arranged according to their tribes, were exhibited under a tent and honoured for three days. In the midst of this host of the known dead stood an empty bed, covered with tapestry and dedicated to “the Invisible,” that is, to those whose bodies it had been impossible to recover. Let us too, before all else, in the quiet of this hall, where none but almost religious words may be heard, raise in our midst such an altar, a sacred and mysterious altar, to the invisible heroines of this war, that is to say, to all those who have died an obscure death and have left no traces and also to those who are yet living, whose sacrifices and sufferings will never be told. Here, with the eyes of the spirit, let us gaze upon all the heroic deeds of which we know; but let us reserve an honoured place for those, incomparably more numerous and perhaps more beautiful, of which we as yet know nothing and, above all, for those of which we shall never know, for glory has its injustices even as death has its fatalities.

Yet it is hardly probable that among these sacrifices we shall discern any more admirable than that of Miss Edith Cavell. I need not recall the circumstances of her death, for they are well-known to everybody and will never be forgotten. Destiny left nothing undone for the purest glory to emerge from the deepest shadow. In the depths of that shadow it concentrated all imaginable hatred, horror, villainy, cowardice and infamy, so that all pity, all innocent courage and mercy, all well-doing and all sweet charity might shine forth above it, as though to show us how low men may sink and how high a woman can rise, as though its express and visible intention had been to trace, with a single gesture, amid all the sorrows and the rare beauties of this war, an outstanding and incomparable example which should at the same time be an immortal and consoling symbol.

And one would say that destiny had taken pains to make this symbol as truthful and as general as possible. It did not select a dazzling and warlike heroine, as it would have done in the days of old: a Judith, a Lucretia, nor even a Joan of Arc. There was no need of resounding words, of splendid raiment, of tragic attitudes and accessories, of an imposing background. The beauty which we find so touching has grown simpler; it makes less stir and wins closer to our heart. And this is why destiny sought out in obscurity a little hospital nurse, one of many thousands of others. The sight of her unpretentious portrait does not tell one whether she was rich or poor, a humble member of the middle classes or a great lady. She would pass unnoticed anywhere until the hour of trial, when glory recognizes its elect; and it seems as though goodness had almost eliminated the individual contours of her face, so that it might the more closely resemble the pensive and sad smiling faces of all the good women in the world.