The Wisdom of Father Brown HTML version
The Duel of Dr Hirsch
M. MAURICE BRUN and M. Armand Armagnac were crossing the sunlit Champs
Elysee with a kind of vivacious respectability. They were both short, brisk and bold.
They both had black beards that did not seem to belong to their faces, after the strange
French fashion which makes real hair look like artificial. M. Brun had a dark wedge of
beard apparently affixed under his lower lip. M. Armagnac, by way of a change, had two
beards; one sticking out from each corner of his emphatic chin. They were both young.
They were both atheists, with a depressing fixity of outlook but great mobility of
exposition. They were both pupils of the great Dr Hirsch, scientist, publicist and moralist.
M. Brun had become prominent by his proposal that the common expression "Adieu"
should be obliterated from all the French classics, and a slight fine imposed for its use in
private life. "Then," he said, "the very name of your imagined God will have echoed for
the last time in the ear of man." M. Armagnac specialized rather in a resistance to
militarism, and wished the chorus of the Marseillaise altered from "Aux armes, citoyens"
to "Aux greves, citoyens". But his antimilitarism was of a peculiar and Gallic sort. An
eminent and very wealthy English Quaker, who had come to see him to arrange for the
disarmament of the whole planet, was rather distressed by Armagnac's proposal that (by
way of beginning) the soldiers should shoot their officers.
And indeed it was in this regard that the two men differed most from their leader and
father in philosophy. Dr Hirsch, though born in France and covered with the most
triumphant favours of French education, was temperamentally of another type--mild,
dreamy, humane; and, despite his sceptical system, not devoid of transcendentalism. He
was, in short, more like a German than a Frenchman; and much as they admired him,
something in the subconsciousness of these Gauls was irritated at his pleading for peace
in so peaceful a manner. To their party throughout Europe, however, Paul Hirsch was a
saint of science. His large and daring cosmic theories advertised his austere life and
innocent, if somewhat frigid, morality; he held something of the position of Darwin
doubled with the position of Tolstoy. But he was neither an anarchist nor an antipatriot;
his views on disarmament were moderate and evolutionary-- the Republican Government
put considerable confidence in him as to various chemical improvements. He had lately
even discovered a noiseless explosive, the secret of which the Government was carefully
His house stood in a handsome street near the Elysee-- a street which in that strong
summer seemed almost as full of foliage as the park itself; a row of chestnuts shattered
the sunshine, interrupted only in one place where a large cafe ran out into the street.
Almost opposite to this were the white and green blinds of the great scientist's house, an
iron balcony, also painted green, running along in front of the first-floor windows.
Beneath this was the entrance into a kind of court, gay with shrubs and tiles, into which
the two Frenchmen passed in animated talk.
The door was opened to them by the doctor's old servant, Simon, who might very well
have passed for a doctor himself, having a strict suit of black, spectacles, grey hair, and a
confidential manner. In fact, he was a far more presentable man of science than his