Siegfried Sassoon is on a solitary and abbreviated Grand Tour, crossing France and Italy en route to Palestine, with nothing but a few new acquaintances, a head cold, and his bag full of books to help him pass the time. Yesterday he indulged in a book that was not on his carefully curated list–to his chagrin.
Through Novi and Vochera, where we halt for lunch 12-1. Glaring sunlight and cold wind—dried-up land. All afternoon we crawl through vinelands, with the low, blue, delicate-edged hills on the right—a few miles away, till the sun goes down and leaves an amethyst glow on that horizon, and at 7.30 we reach Bologna.
Reading Lewis Seymour and Some Women all day—an easy-flowing, unpleasant-flavoured book—great relief to turn to Pater’s Botticelli essay, and then to Hardy’s Woodlanders. Nasty old man, George Moore.
Jolly companionship of the journey, in spite of the animal squalor and so on. Harper rather hipped and fussy—bad campaigner, I fear. Howell-Jones sensible and philosophical. M. Robinson has my heart with his dear impetuous ways, kind and willing and cheery.
So not rally all that solitary, in fact. Today, with all quiet in London and France, we’ll continue to trundle along with Sassoon.
I do want to say one thing about his diary, which is now being regularly updated for the first time in months: it’s a travelogue, yes, but he’s not just marking time or recording the stages of his journey. He’s also making notes again, in the sense that he is once again thinking about writing about what he sees. This is important, I think: never mind “indoor” and “outdoor” Sassoon–that is an imperfect binary distinction imposed retrospectively. But whether or not he is experiencing the war as something he might write about is an important indicator of his mood. When he is despairing, he writes angrily, unproductively, for the moment at hand; when frustrated or indulging in “mindless” activities he only writes to record them.
So he is once again content, it would seem–and yet not mindlessly content, as he portrayed himself during the period of huntin’ and drillin’ in Ireland.
After a night-journey of freezing gloom, the train stopping occasionally in cavernous stations, we reached Faenza about 2.30 a.m. and slept in the train. Turned out at 8 to a sunlit morning and soon found ourselves washing and drinking coffee in a hotel, moderately comfortable. Clean, narrow tall streets, a market-place full of gossip and babble of cloaked, unshaven, middle-aged men, with a sprinkling of soldiers in grey with yellow collars. We stay here twelve hours. The fountain in the place was festooned with ice, like melted lead.
And Rowland Feilding is traveling in an entirely different direction. We have seen the Master of Belhaven use the perquisites of a commander–free time and the influence to obtain leisure facilities–to persecute peripatetic partridges, but Feilding satisfies a desire not for bygone pastimes but novelty:
February 20, 1918. Vadenay.
Yesterday afternoon I at last satisfied my ambition, and flew in an aeroplane. It was a glorious day, and, piloted by a little French corporal, we mounted to something over 5,000 feet and cruised for three-quarters of an hour at that altitude. It is a wonderful feeling. We were so high above the captive balloons that they looked like peas, or
rather beans (which is their shape).
All was going well when, suddenly, a crack and a whizz: something was wrong in front. Bits of metal came flying back, missing the pilot, but making a hole in each of the wings. A piece 2 1/2 feet long caught up in the stays and fluttered there. The propeller made a hesitating turn or two, then stopped, and I—who was as ignorant as a babe of what was the matter, and knew only that we were 5,000 feet above the ground—began to wonder what would happen next.
I think I should have expected under the circumstances to feel frightened, but my pilot remained so self-possessed, and the aeroplane began to descend so steadily, that a feeling of almost complete confidence came over me, and I do not think my heart beat one pat the faster.
I repeat this as a study in sensations, and because I think the experience (having regard to the fact that it was my first time up) was interesting and peculiar.
The pilot steered the machine round and round in little spiral curves towards the earth, while I sat and watched the landscape getting closer and more defined, and as a precaution fixed the strap which is provided for the purpose around my waist. As we neared the tree-tops we got rather wobbly (my pilot was manouevring for position and was
keeping the aeroplane level), but finally we landed smoothly on the very aerodrome we had started from;—when I felt much relieved.
They tell me it was a rare accident. It was caused by a valve of the engine, which was of the rotary type, blowing loose, and cutting the steel housing of the motor, round the complete circle. It was some pieces of the housing that had come flying back, and the force required for the operation illustrates the immense power of these engines (250 horse-power).
The engine was of course wrecked; but I have had my fly, though I daresay I am not so keen to repeat it just at present, even if I get the opportunity.
It is wretched thinking of you all in London while these beastly raids are going on.