21 September 2017

Witnesses to Destruction

Camille Mauclair, Henri Le Sidaner (Paris: Georges Petit & Henri Floury, 1928), pp. 174-175 (from the draft of my soon-to-be-published translation):
Mechanization requires intrusive changes, and every day it destroys irreplaceable cultural landmarks. We watch as a sly vandalism spoils and deadens everything with the exasperating consent of an indifferent public. Speculators lay waste to the forests, and where there was once a cluster of trees worthy of the painter Théodore Rousseau we now find a sawmill in the midst of an empty plain. The heirs to the old country estates are unable to keep up with the crushing taxes and are selling up and parcelling off their land: housing developers will use it to erect twenty ridiculous and commonplace boxes. The factory's chimney and turbines disgrace and defile the lovely river. The village church falls into disrepair, and the local wiseacres look forward to the day this “temple of superstition” collapses. Every day, somewhere, a porch or an arch is pulled down. The soft, thatched roof is proscribed. Cement and corrugated steel, convenient and hideous, take the place of stone and slate. The merchant cartel plunders the countryside, removing its furnishings and period ornaments and replacing them with modern junk. Provincial talent creates masterpieces, but it is pushed aside in favour of trends from Paris that are Parisian in name alone. Thanks to poor regional education, it will be impossible to rebuild things once people realize the terrible mistake they made when they threw it all away. The decent and sensible French have resisted tenaciously, but the domestic and religious attitudes that were suited to this old way of life are still under harsh attack. We are indeed witnesses to destruction: it will continue for a long while yet, but it is only a matter of time. Whatever regret or disgust we may feel, it is our right and duty as artists to struggle for these places and this society as our forefathers did for theirs: to preserve them in pictures, to honour their beauty, and to show how much we loved them.
Henri Le Sidaner, Clair de lune à Gerberoy (1904)

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