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Edith Cavell
by [?]

Beneath those features one might indeed have read the hidden devotion and quiet heroism of all the women who do their duty, that is, of those whom we see about us day by day, working, hoping, keeping vigil, solacing and succouring others, wearing themselves out without complaint, suffering in secret and mourning their dead in silence.

She passed like a flash of light which for one moment illumined that vast and innumerable multitude, confirming our confidence and our admiration. She has added a final beauty to the great revelations of this war; for the war, which has taught us many things that will never fade from our memory, has above all revealed us to ourselves. In the first days of the terrible ordeal, we did not know for certain how men and women would comport themselves. In vain did we interrogate the past, hoping thereby to learn something of the future. There was no past that would serve for a comparison. Our eyes were drawn back to the present; and we closed them, full of uneasiness. In what condition should we find ourselves facing duty, sacrifice, suffering and death, after so many years of peace, well-being and pleasure, of heedlessness and moral indifference? What had been the vast and invisible journey of the human conscience and of those secret forces which are the whole of man, during this long respite, when they had never been called upon to confront fate? Were they asleep, were they weakened or lost, would they respond to the call of destiny, or had they sunk so deep that they would never recover the energy to ascend to the surface of life? There was a moment of anguish and silence; and lo, suddenly, in the midst of this anguish and silence, the most splendid response, the most magnificent cry of resurrection, of righteousness, of heroism and sacrifice that the earth has ever heard since it began to roll along the paths of space and time! They were still there, the ideal forces! They were mounting upward, on every side, from the depths of all those swiftly-assembling souls, not merely intact but more than ever radiant, more than ever pure, more numerous and mightier than ever! To the amazement of all of us, who possessed them without knowing it, they had increased in strength and stature while apparently neglected and forgotten.

To-day there is no longer any doubt. We may expect all things and hope all things from the men and the women who have surmounted this long and grievous trial. If the heroism displayed by man on the battlefield has never been comparable with that which is being lavished at this moment, we may also say of the women that their heroism is even more beyond comparison. We knew that a certain number of men were capable of giving their lives for their country, for their faith or for a generous ideal; but we did not realize that all would wrestle with death for endless months, in great unanimous masses; and above all we did not imagine, or perhaps we had to some extent forgotten, since the days of the great martyrs, that woman was ready with the same gift of self, the same patience, the same sacrifices, the same greatness of soul and was about–less perhaps in blood than in tears, for it is always on her that sorrow ends by falling–to prove herself the rival and the peer of man.


[Footnote 1: Delivered in Paris, at the Trocadero, 18 December, 1915.]