Bertha von Suttner’s anti-war novel in French – Bas les armes! (1899): The late and troublesome birth of a non-bestseller

On 9 October 2020, the editors of the French literary magazine, Books, published an article about Bertha von Suttner following the announcement on the same day of that year’s laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize. However, ‘Bertha von Suttner, first woman laureate of the Nobel peace prize’,[1] is disappointing both as regards the length and content of the article. It mentions that it was the ‘radical pacifist’ (sic) who convinced Alfred Nobel to honour individuals who promoted the fraternity of peoples. This view is widespread but inaccurate; she convinced Nobel that the peace movement needed financial support but was not in favour of prizes or awards. The peace prize that Nobel instituted was meant for peace activists like her (not for organisations) and in 1905 she belatedly received the prize herself (as had been the founder’s intention). A week after the announcement of the award on 10 December 1905, the French periodical Annales politiques et littéraires devoted an article to her (issue of 17 December). Books has merely reprinted this article, including the erroneous (1847) year of her birth in Prague (1843). It is also not true, although widely believed, that she had finally succeeded in converting Nobel to pacifism. He had been interested in the ideal of peace from a young age; von Suttner succeeded in convincing him that the peace movement was making a difference and that it would be even more effective if it had the financial resources necessary to intensify its campaign. This was largely to educate public opinion, including politicians and parliamentarians, that war was neither profitable nor inevitable, or glorious and heroic. A world without war would come about by replacing force by law and arbitration which would make disarmament possible.

Bertha von Suttner became famous throughout Europe and the USA following the publication of her influential anti-war novel, Die Waffen nieder! (1889). It was translated into many languages, including into English (Lay Down Your Arms, 1892) and French (Baronne de Suttner, Bas les armes!, 1899). The 1905 article incorrectly puts the year of publication of the first French edition at the beginning of the last decade of the 19th century (1891) rather than at the end. Moreover, the impression is created that the French edition was the original version of the book which was subsequently translated into every other language.[2] The rest of the article consists of a short extract taken from the last pages of the novel. As mentioned, all of this is merely reproduced in Books (9 October 2020).

It is true that the novel was a bestseller, first and foremost in German-speaking Europe where it went through many editions reaching hundreds of thousands of readers before World War I. But such success was not repeated in France where it took ten years before a translation (in book form) appeare

d.[3] In England, it had taken only three years. The French publisher brought out only 1,000 copies – the same number as had originally been published by her initially reluctant and sceptical German publisher (Pierson). Whereas many reprints followed in Germany,[4] the publishing history of Bas les armes! was far less impressive. Although another 1,000 copies were printed in 1899 (2nd thousand), a third print (3rd thousand) followed only in 1906, and a fourth (and apparently final) one in 1908 (4th thousand). Apart from the year and print number on the title pages, all these editions are identical, running to 464 pages and carrying a foreword by Gaston Moch (‘avant-propos’, pp. I-XII).

Whereas Die Waffen nieder! has rarely been out of print, Bas les armes! was only reprinted in 2015, more than a century after the earliest, pre-World War I editions.[5] The reprint includes the original foreword by Moch, together with a new one by Marie-Antoinette Marteil. A note by the publisher at the start of the volume mentions that the name of the translator is not indicated in the first edition (nor, it can be added, in any of the three subsequent editions). Also, that out of respect for the work of the translator, the text has not been altered except for the correction of certain typographical and orthographical errors and the addition of some explanatory footnotes.[6] One such note provides basic biographical information on Moch. It says that the first edition of Bas les armes! does not indicate that he is the translator ‘but certain sources confirm it’.[7]

In her introduction,[8] Marteil writes that von Suttner’s novel met with little interest in France, both at the time of its publication and today. She also points out that although the first French edition appeared in 1899, the French public had been able to read the novel through instalments that had been published in various French-language newspapers and magazines (no details are given). Marteil argues that re-publication of the novel today, a century after the death of its author, is justified on account of its historical significance as well as the continued relevance of its message of the need to disarm and resolve international conflicts peacefully in an age of continuous warfare and weapons of mass destruction. Moreover, Bertha von Suttner was a remarkable woman who deserves to be remembered and become better known again. Marteil’s doctoral thesis on Bertha von Suttner had been published the previous year.[9]

It may seem peculiar that in that book in French, by a French author, for a French readership, there is hardly any reference to the French edition of the novel, let alone any discussion of it. Whenever Marteil quotes from the novel, it is from the German edition, providing her own translation. Whereas she generally refers to the novel using the title of the French translation, the references to it in the notes are to the German edition. The existence of a French edition is only mentioned once, en passant and without any comment, in a very brief footnote about Gaston Moch.[10] Bas les armes! is absent from the extensive and detailed bibliography of Bertha von Suttner at the end of the volume.[11] Various early and later editions of Die Waffen nieder! are included but none of the French editions. While Gaston Moch is as good as absent from Marteil’s account, Victor Hugo is credited with inspiring von Suttner with the title of her novel.[12] It is true that, already in her youth, she had been a voracious reader of his works, and that in his famous presidential address at the 1849 Paris congress of the international peace movement, he had exclaimed, ‘Bas les armes! Vivez en paix!’[13] However, it is clear that when she wrote her novel, she was not aware of the congress or of Hugo’s speech or the publications in which it had appeared. Its beauty and power are such that otherwise she would certainly have referred to it.[14] After all, he was one of her favourite authors, and his ‘stunning address [is] perhaps the most beautiful page in the whole of pacifist literature’.[15]


On several occasions Marteil stresses the strong autobiographical features of all of von Suttner’s novels, including Die Waffen nieder!, and refers to ‘Bertha, alias Martha’, whose autobiography the novel represents.[16] We know that von Suttner first heard of the existence of a peace movement during her visit to Paris in 1887. In the following 18 months or so she tried to learn more about the movement and the result is found in the novel which was published at the end of 1889. Martha says that in 1867 she and her husband had started a little book, The Protocol of Peace, in which ‘the history … of the idea of peace, as far as we could gain a knowledge of it, was incorporated … and along with this the expressions of various philosophers, poets, priests, and authors on the subject of “Peace and War”’.[17] That the subject was still new to Bertha – ‘alias Martha’ –  is clear from various errors such as the statement that William Penn published his essay on the future peace of Europe in 1647 (he was then a three-year old; the year is 1693)[18] or that ‘In Geneva Count Cellon founded a “Peace Club”’. Count Jean-Jacques de Sellon founded the Société de la Paix de Genève in 1830. It is particularly telling that Martha mentions an ‘assembly of the English Friends of Peace’ in 1849, and ‘the Congress of Paris, which wound up the Crimean War’.[19] The latter was an official congress that was held in 1856. The 1849 congress of the friends of peace, with Hugo’s address, is not mentioned. Yet, as Sandi E. Cooper has noted, ‘Of all the mid-century international congresses [of the peace movement], it came to be memorialized as the apex of the movement, a rich source of peace-movement lore and legend in future decades … Hugo’s opening speech has become the best-known document of the nineteenth-century peace movement’.[20]


However, well before von Suttner came to write her Memoirs (they were published in 1909, twenty years after Die Waffen nieder!) she knew about that congress, writing: ‘In the year 1849, to be sure, a Peace Congress had already been held with Victor Hugo in the chair; but who, beside the participants, knew anything about it? Every time, like every man, has for its own a certain field of thought, beyond which nothing is perceived’.[21] The Memoirs provide evidence that she heard of the 1849 conference shortly after the publication of Die Waffen nieder! She reproduces a letter that her friend and correspondent Friedrich Bodenstedt had written to her in April 1890 after she had sent him a review of her novel. As a 30-year-old, he had been a participant in the conference and describes how he was implored to make a speech in front of an audience of ‘between five and six thousand people’.[22] For further proof that the title of von Suttner’s novel was not inspired by Hugo’s ‘bas les armes!’, see the discussion about the title with Moch below.


A few months after the publication of Marteil’s book, Marie-Claire Hoock-Demarle published her biography of Bertha von Suttner.[23] Here, too, there is hardly any mention of the French translation which is also absent from the bibliography. The ‘immediate and considerable success’ of Die Waffen nieder! is documented with corresponding ‘translations in English in 1892, in Italian in 1897, in French in 1899, in Spanish in 1905’.[24] Nothing is said about the French translation and its editions. The author is a Germanist and, like Marteil, her references are always to Die Waffen nieder! and quotations from it are in her own translation.

In view of the – somewhat surprising, it may be thought – absence in the above biographies (and reprint) of any information or discussion about the French translation of the novel and publishing history of Bas les armes!, this article aims to shed some light on the subject. That von Suttner was keen to see a French translation, and that a relatively early start had been made, is clear from a letter she wrote to Alfred Nobel on 26 November 1891: ‘It is a pity that the French translation, of which I have sent you the first instalments, has been halted; I do not know what the reasons are – the publisher no longer shows a sign of life. I believe that the circulation of the book in French would have won many adherents to the cause; the members of the Viennese [peace] society have virtually all come from among the readers of the book’.[25]

We do not know in which paper the instalments she had sent to Nobel had appeared. Almost a year before she wrote to him, she had written to A. Friedmann, on 9 December 1890: ‘At the beginning of January the book will appear in Swedish in Stockholm (with Looström), a paper in Geneva brings it in French and several American papers, among them the New-Yorker Belletristische Journal are printing it’. This letter is partly reproduced in the catalogue of an exhibition on Bertha von Suttner curated in Vienna in 1950 by Hubert Kaut.[26] That it proved difficult to procure a copy of the French translation for this exhibition is suggested by the fact that it was not among the nine translations in various languages which were displayed in a section of the exhibition dedicated to translations of the novel.[27]

The project to publish Bas les armes! in instalments was undertaken by more than one publisher – and even resulted in the emergence of a new weekly magazine for this very purpose. In 1892, F. Widmer, publisher in Bern, brought out the first issue of L’ International which consisted of the first instalment of the novel.[28] We do not know whether L’ International survived long enough for the whole of the novel to be published in it. Also, it is uncertain whether the edition of Bas les armes! (Bern, 1893) that is listed in Jacob ter Meulen’s provisional bibliographies of the historical peace literature, published in the 1930s, does exist, or refers perhaps to the instalment(s) published in L’ International.[29]

A few years after the appearance of the Swiss weekly, Bas les armes! was published in the Belgian daily, L’Indépendance Belge during the first half of 1897, from 30 January to 2 May. The author of the translation (from the German) was named as Mrs. Marie Nègre.[30] That same year, the owner of the liberal newspaper had sold it to a French-Belgian consortium; among the shareholders were three leading figures of the French peace movement: Émile Arnaud, Gaston Moch and Charles Richet. The purpose of the acquisition was to possess a publication with an international reputation so as to promote the pacifist cause but also to have a platform for the defence of Alfred Dreyfus in which Moch became heavily involved. In a report on the first half of the year 1897, von Suttner wrote in her Memoirs: ‘Our literary labors do not rest … Die Waffen nieder is appearing in a French translation in the Indépendance belge. – This same translation [underlining mine] two years later was issued in book form by Zola’s publisher, Tasquelles (Charpentier). From the French public came now many newspaper notices and private letters which showed me that the theme treated in that book was waking a loud echo among contemporaries in other countries’.[31] The French poet, Charles Morice, at the time living in Brussels, wrote to her on 5 May 1897 that Bas les armes! (as serialised in the Brussels daily) was very successful there.[32] A few months earlier, her friend Jakob (Jacques) Novicow had written from Odessa that every day he read with the greatest interest the translation of the novel in the same newspaper.[33]

In 1895, von Suttner had proposed to Moch the translation of her novel, the copyright of which she promised to cede to the International Peace Bureau in Bern (which would thus receive the author’s royalties deriving from the sale of the French edition). When she did not receive a reply, she asked Henri La Fontaine for his support, in a letter of 9 December 1895.[34] It is, however, Moch who became centrally involved in the publication of Bas les armes! for which he also wrote a foreword, as mentioned above. While he took a close interest in the translation and commented on it – also in correspondence with the author – it is not the case that he was the translator. He was much too busy for taking on that task; in these years he published several important books; was director/editor of the Indépendance Belge; and was preoccupied by the Dreyfus Affair. Also, on behalf of the International Peace Bureau (IPB) (he was a council member), and of the national council of French peace societies (he was head of the Délégation permanente des sociétés françaises de la paix), he was largely responsible for organising an exhibition on the international peace movement at the World Exhibition that was held in Paris in 1900. The 7th Universal Peace Congress, held in Budapest in 1896, had adopted a resolution to organise such an exhibition; its realisation came about through the close collaboration in the following years between Moch and Élie Ducommun (IPB’s first secretary).[35] Their extensive correspondence, preserved in the IPB archives in the UN library in Geneva, details the work involved and the care they took to make this a success.[36] At the same time, coinciding with the World Exhibition, the 9th Universal Peace Congress was held in Paris; Moch had been appointed its secretary-general. It is surprising that the exhibition – which was held in the Swiss section of the display on the Social Sciences – is hardly mentioned in the official conference report. There is no mention, e.g., of a possible group visit of Congress participants to this unique exhibition on the work of the peace societies to which earlier they had been invited to contribute.[37] Moch and von Suttner will have been pleased that Bas les Armes! could be displayed together with translations of the novel in eight other languages.[38] As mentioned already, according to von Suttner, the French translation was based on the one that was serialised in L’Indépendance belge, made by Marie Nègre.

The archives in Geneva contain a substantial folder of Gaston Moch’s letters to von Suttner, covering the years 1895-1905; many of the earlier of the 29 letters preserved concern the French translation of her novel. They show how closely he was involved in all aspects of this project, including linguistic and stylistic issues, the best translation of the title, publication in instalments in the periodical press, finding a publisher for the book, and initiating a subscription to promote its sales.[39]

The translation was first discussed in their correspondence at least three years before the book was published. In one of the earliest letters in the file (4 March 1896), Moch addressed such issues as the need for a French edition; that it should be in one volume (‘it is a fact based on experience: here, novels in two volumes do not sell’); and protection of the author’s rights. In a letter towards the end of the same year (22 December) he asked her again to consider some adaptations in order to make the book more attractive to a French audience. He also advised against the typesetting which had been used for the serialisation in L’Indépendance Belge which he found ugly, blaming a novice editor.[40] Moch was adamant that the book was not to exceed 400 pages and that ideally it should be nearer to 350 than 400. In a 10-page letter written early in 1897 (9 January) he indicated that serialisation of Bas les armes! would commence as soon as the current feuilleton in the Indépendance had been  completed towards the end of the month. He specified that he was referring to the paper’s daily edition, not the weekly one that, he wrote, she was familiar with.[41] Since feuilletons in the latter always lagged behind those in the daily edition, serialisation in the weekly edition was to begin sometime in March. She would be sent two copies of the daily edition once her novel started appearing in it.[42] He requested biographical information so that she could be properly introduced, noting that ‘here in France, it is not the book that should be presented to the public but the author … When they know what kind of woman our Friedensfurie is, all will be well’.

A week later (16 January), Moch shared some hopeful news: the chief editor of L’Indépendance had informed him that he was thinking of serialising the novel also in le Petit Bleu which, Moch added, ‘is read by everyone in Belgium’. This inexpensive morning daily, printed on blue paper, was published in Brussels from 1893 under the auspices of L’Indépendance. Inspired by the Illustrated London News, it was the first illustrated newspaper in Belgium. At the end of the month (30 January), Moch told von Suttner that he found her criticisms of the draft translation ‘a little severe’: ‘Let me first say that, contrary to what you think, it is really M. Edouard Facter [?] who has revised the translation; the manuscript is absolutely covered in corrections from his hand; as regards the outcome, frankly speaking, we do not find it as deplorable as you do’. In a letter sent a few days later (5 February), Moch dealt with von Suttner’s apparent criticism about the change of the novel’s title: ‘it was me who put Bas les Armes instead of A bas that appeared on the manuscript … Bas les armes is an order, A bas a protest. And it is the former that I think is intended. It is not a cry of revolt that we must convey but an instruction notifying our governments’. On 11 May he reported that there was no news from the publisher Hachette but that a friend had sounded out Eugène Fasquelle (i.e., the director of the Charpentier publishing house)[43] who had not objected in principle to the subject of the book but who showed some disapproval especially about its length, and the quality of the translation. Moch also saw another publisher, Fischbacher, and was told the book would cost 3,500 francs to print and had to sell 2,000 copies to break even. In order to help sales, and convince a publisher, he drafted a circular inviting people in the peace movement to place an order before publication.[44]

It seems that Moch reached an agreement with Fasquelle who, he reported to von Suttner several months later (22 October), asked to proceed but on the explicit condition that the text would be seriously revised from the point of view of the French wording. Moch wrote that he could not blame him: while a close look was not so necessary for serialisation, Fasquelle’s objections were well founded when the publication concerned a book. The text that von Suttner had returned, and that Moch had forwarded to the publisher, still sounded too much like a translation. Choosing his words carefully, Moch said that the language often created the impression of tedious passages; they could be avoided by the use of more precise words and expressions and a more concise, terse style. He also pointed out another problem: the French translation was suffering twice the vices inherent in any translation since it was based on the English one.[45] Moch proposed that his collaborator Dupré undertake such re-writing which, he reassured her, he would do very well and quickly so that the book could be published by the end of January (1898) which was the best moment in the year for launching it. Fasquelle was offering his usual conditions such as a first print of 1,500 copies with an author’s fee of 40 centimes per copy amounting to 600 francs. A higher fee would be payable for reprints. Moch indicated that the revision of the French text could not be expected to be undertaken without compensation and suggested that a sum of 200 francs from the author’s first royalties would be an appropriate payment. Moch mentioned that the availability of the book in other languages would restrict sales figures abroad. He showed a surprising ignorance when he thought Russia was still one of the few markets available since no fewer than five translations had appeared early on, something which he had become aware of by the time he wrote his foreword. In conclusion, Moch reassured von Suttner that, notwithstanding the diminished frequency of his letters, he continued to be ‘the most devoted of your devotees’.

The next letters in the file are dated March and August 1898; in the latter one he wrote that La Fronde had rejected his request to publish a review of the novel (once it had appeared). He was told that readers would not be interested in this kind of novel. Both Moch and von Suttner might have found this rejection disappointing. La Fronde was a feminist daily, first published in Paris towards the end of 1897 by Marguerite Durand, a well-known actress and respectable journalist. Hers was the first newspaper in France to be run and written entirely by women. In March 1898, it had published a series of articles  in which Clémence Royer – a highly respected public intellectual and the first French translator of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species – openly attacked militarism. Her combative approach was ‘shared by most of the women writers and readers of La Fronde as well as by its editor … [and] went well beyond the usual peace literature’.[46] On the positive side, Moch indicated that the novel could perhaps be serialised in French provincial papers; this had been suggested by a contact who headed an agency that provided copy to such papers. His next letter (15 March 1899) contained an apology for the delay which surrounded the translation of Bas les armes! and is unlikely to have been greatly welcomed by von Suttner. The old problems – the length of the novel, and the unsatisfactory language – still had not been adequately dealt with according to the publisher who demanded the novel be cut by a quarter. Moch then sent her a letter he had received from the publisher, dated 28 March in which the latter fully shared Moch’s view that the novel be published as soon as possible. The great delay had apparently been caused by the fact that Monsieur Dupré’s work had gone missing at La Fronde and was never found. Naturally enough, he was not willing to do it all over again. We do not know what happened next; answers may be found in the archives of the publisher (if they have survived the ravages of two world wars; as mentioned above, some of Moch’s papers were destroyed in 1940). When Bas les armes! was eventually published, later that year, only 1,000 copies were printed, quickly followed by a similar number as detailed above.

It is clear that without the great efforts of Gaston Moch over several years, the French translation might not have seen the light of day; he acted as a midwife in what turned out to be a difficult and drawn-out birth. Bertha von Suttner could not have wished for a more conscientious, determined and devoted helper, or for a better foreword to Bas les armes! However, in the few references to him in her memoirs, no mention is made of Moch’s crucial role in its translation and publication. His foreword began, somewhat apologetically, ‘A day will come – soon, one must hope – that it will be found surprising that in the year 1899, it still seemed necessary to “present” to the French public the baroness von Suttner and her best-known work: Bas les armes!’ He added that although the book enjoyed exceptional success throughout the civilised world, it did not escape the fate common to all works which are ahead of their time: it was initially rejected by twenty journals and editors on the pretext that its failure would be a certainty among the deeply militaristic German public. When, at last, a courageous German publisher was found, he was rewarded by the success of the book which, Moch indicated, had sold 28,000 copies of the 2-volume edition,[47] and 30,000 of the popular edition in one volume. This unprecedented success was not limited to Germany and Austria but was repeated abroad and he enumerated the fifteen translations that had appeared in ten languages (including five different translations in Russian of which one had been authorised). As regards serialisation of the novel in newspapers, ‘Mrs. Von Suttner herself would be embarrassed to account for their number’. Moch wrote that the only thing missing from this series of consecrations was that of the French public but one could be assured that it was not going to fail in this regard.[48]

The French edition carried no sub-title and Moch pointed out that the sub-title of the original German, Eine Lebensgeschichte (A Biography), led many readers to believe that it was the history of the author.[49] He exaggerated, however, when asserting that it was ‘a work of pure fiction … and nothing, in the life of the author, resembles the adventures of the novel’s heroine’. He described how the success of the novel greatly affected the lives of the von Suttner couple who now became increasingly involved in social questions and praised the baroness’s insight that war is only one manifestation of the spirit of violence that still governs human relations which would only be eliminated when the idea of solidarity and cooperation would have replaced that of antagonism and struggle. Failure to understand this logical chain was the reason why so many noble efforts to abolish war in the past had been sterile. In this connection, he mentioned two principal works of the author which could be seen as complementing Bas les armes! Although they had not met with the same success, they were perhaps of even greater significance than the novel: Schach der Qual (1898) and especially Das Maschinenzeitalter (1889, 2nd ed. 1891), published under a pseudonym a few months before Die Waffen nieder! Moch commented that this masterwork received high critical praise and whereas for the general public von Suttner would always be the author of Bas les armes!, for the philosopher, she was above all the author of Das Maschinenzeitalter.[50] Moch concluded his incisive and most sympathetic presentation of the author by saying that those who had not had the good fortune to meet her would come to love her after reading Bas les armes! – which, we can add, for sure had been the experience of many readers.[51]

In his letters to von Suttner, Moch often referred also to other subjects. For instance, the last years of the 19th century saw the establishment of the Nobel Peace Prize and speculation was rife, not least in the peace movement, about who was deserving of it. In one of his letters (16 January 1897), shortly after Nobel’s testament became public, Moch wrote that it was really impossible to come up with ten names of those who were worthy of such an amazing reward, not only now but also in the next twenty years. He had written to Frédéric Passy that he could see only three worthy winners: In the first year, Passy; in the second, Élie Ducommun, in the third, von Suttner. They could never be surpassed. Passy replied that Moch was too harsh and that Hodgson Pratt, Ernesto T. Moneta and ‘even’ William Randal Cremer had claims on the prize. It seems that Moch was not persuaded by Passy because he later wrote to von Suttner (8 January 1902) that as soon as she and Ducommun had been honoured, he did not see any other pacifists who deserved such a great reward ‘and from that moment I shall obstinately vote for “an institution”’.[52] The last document in the file is a telegram Moch sent on 11 December 1905, the day after the Norwegian Nobel Committee had announced the name of that year’s laureate: ‘Enfin bravo pour le comité Norvégien’.[53] The following day Moch sent another telegram congratulating her on behalf of the Institut International de la Paix in Monaco (12 December 1905).[54] In 1902 Moch had been appointed head of the cabinet of Albert I, prince of Monaco. He persuaded the prince to host the 11th Universal Congress of Peace in Monaco that same year. Moch presided over the Congress and further persuaded the prince to establish (and fund) an Institute of International Peace of which Moch was appointed president when it opened in 1903.[55] He moved its office to Paris when he became chair of the National Council of French Peace Societies in 1904. The Institute, the first of its kind, survived until 1924.[56]

Bertha von Suttner participated in the Monaco congress, as did Charles Richet. It is interesting to note what he said there: ‘If we do not want to be thrust aside, let us not talk of disarmament or refusal of military service; let us demand only compulsory International Justice … We should not say “Lay Down Your Arms!” now: we shall say “Lay Down Your Arms!” later: for if we would say “Lay Down Your Arms!” now, we would be told that we are utopians and dangerous dreamers, because we would cause the arms to drop from the hands of soldiers who one day have to be ready to defend themselves. Such an idea is far from us; on the contrary, we want that the soldier remains armed! Behind this idea we have another one; we have to be able to say: “We have now the International Tribunal, and later we will have disarmament, the fall of arms, the disappearance of cannons!”  – Today, let us demand Justice, later we shall have disarmament’.[57]

In the same discussion on disarmament, von Suttner commented: ‘People have spoken about armament, disarmament and arbitration, but no word has been said about “the halt of armaments” which certainly has its place here’. She recalled the discussions at the 1899 Hague Peace Conference: the Russian Tsar had proposed a halt lasting five years but a commission of military officers to whom the question had been submitted for examination reported, after two hours (‘rather than two months’), that such a halt was impossible. This elicited the comment, ‘One has put to a committee of cats the question whether their supply of cream should be limited! The cats replied that this was not a good idea!’[58]

In his letters Moch sometimes also referred to his own writings and forthcoming book publications such as in March 1899 when he mentioned that he was working on two books, Armée permanente ou milice? and L’Ère sans violence (1899). The former was published as La réforme militaire: Vive la Milice! (1900). That year also saw the publication of his important L’armée d’une démocratie. In the same letter he expressed his satisfaction with the acquittal of the anti-militarist Urbain Gohier who the previous year had published a pamphlet, L’armée contre la nation, in which he charged that French barracks were a breeding ground of decadence, vice, crime and abuse of common men by officers of aristocratic background. He was brought to trial on charges of defaming the state. Moch mentioned that before the trial, the 1,500 copies of Gohier’s pamphlet had not sold out. Now, the print run stood at 22,000.[59] Obviously, Moch and von Suttner could only dream of such figures for Bas les armes! As indicated above, only 4,000 copies were printed in a period of almost ten years. There may be several reasons why the book did not become a bestseller, despite Moch’s valiant efforts. Was it perhaps not widely reviewed or were reviews not complimentary? Was the price too high to allow many people to buy it?; unlike for the German edition, there was no popular, less expensive French edition. Had serialisation in several papers greatly reduced the demand for the book when it appeared? A major factor is likely to have been the unpopularity of the theme of the novel in France. In the decades following the Franco-Prussian War, French defeat and the loss of Alsace-Lorraine had resulted in a strong nationalist sentiment clamouring for revenge; calls for disarmament were falling on deaf ears. In her memoirs, Bertha von Suttner vividly recalled the atmosphere she experienced in 1887 in Paris where ‘the predominant question of the day [was] the threatening war-cloud’.[60] The Dreyfus Affair which erupted the following decade further inflamed anti-German sentiment.

During that ‘winter in Paris’ she met for the first time Wilhelm Löwenthal who resided in the city and with whom she had corresponded about literary matters since 1882. He wrote on 15 March 1890 that he had just finished reading Die Waffen nieder!. He offered praise and analysed the book; he found extraordinary apt the way data and factual, personal experiences were mixed in with the story, making it impossible to tell where reality ended and fiction began. However, he complained about the printing errors – ‘I have rarely seen so many in a modern book’. Löwenthal asked to be informed as soon as translations appeared and offered to help with the realisation of one in French  – calling it the most important one – for example, by prodding a publisher. ‘I shall gladly cooperate with this kind of work and not begrudge any time spent on it’. He went on to indicate why he regarded a French translation as vital: Books for primary schools in France systematically preached the wildest hate against the Germans; children, aged seven, had to write in dictation exercises, ‘The Prussians are our sworn enemies, let’s not forget’. He also quoted a children’s rhyming poem (in the style of a kind of Punch and Judy show) by Georges Boyer, ‘The Prussians’, which began, ‘The Prussians are bad people, They have burnt and destroyed everything … But one day I will grow up and you will see Polichinelle!’[61] Later that year, in a letter of 9 September, he inquired about the status of the French translation of her novel.[62]

That the French public was not in the mood to extend an enthusiastic welcome to a novel with a pacifist tendency was also clear from a letter Alfred Nobel had written to Bertha von Suttner from Paris on 14 September 1891. Her appeal in the Viennese daily, Neue Freie Presse, of 3 September was partially reproduced in newspapers in Paris with editorial comment. Nobel had seen it and wrote to her in English: ‘My dear Friend, – Delighted I am to see that Your eloquent pleading against that horror of horrors – war – has found its way into the French press. But I fear that out of French readers ninety-nine in a hundred are chauvinistically mad. The Government here are almost in their senses; the people, on the contrary, are getting success – and vanity-drunken. A pleasant kind of intoxication, much less deleterious, unless it leads to war, than spirits of wine or morphium …’[63]

The same anti-German sentiment in France was also pointed out by another correspondent, this time a Swiss man of letters, who also lived in Paris. Edouard de Morsier, a specialist in German literature, wrote to von Suttner in September 1890 thanking her for praising his book, Romanciers allemands (1890), and expressing his delight that her husband was writing a review of it for the Magazin für In- und Ausland. My only merit in writing this book, he continued, is to have dared for the first time in France to speak the truth about Germany and the literature that one affects to despise. ‘I assure you, Madam, that it takes real courage today to dare to say anything good about Germany in France’. But he really wanted to talk about Die Waffen nieder!, ‘titled so courageously’. He knew of all the noise that it had caused in Austria and Germany and only now had found the time to read it which he had done with much interest. In the last page of his 7-page letter he gave his opinion about the way the book could become known and admired in France, too. It was absolutely necessary that the work was translated; this had to be done first and de Morsier expressed his surprise that the publisher – who had written to him that the work had been translated into Italian, Danish, English, Polish, Swedish, etc. – had not immediately proceeded with a French translation. If von Suttner thought that de Morsier could be of any help in this respect, he would be fully at her disposal. He had an outstanding translator available who, at de Morsier’s request, would gladly take charge of the matter. The most beautiful reviews in French papers would be absolutely useless if the book remained untranslated. Since the French do not know German, the articles would be read but afterwards nobody would think of the book. He assured her that as soon as it was published, all the newspapers and journals would mention it and her admirers (among whom he asked her to count himself) would have no problem making a lot of noise about the book in the press. In this connection he mentioned that he had avidly read an article by her husband on Octave Mirbeau (a celebrated art critic, novelist and journalist). De Morsier would be seeing him soon and nobody was better placed than Mirbeau to devote a resounding article to Bas les armes! Towards the end of the month de Morsier sent her a second, equally long letter, this time from Geneva. It contained detailed comments on the novel and mentioned ‘the great idea’ that he had about the book and about ‘the work that it must accomplish as a new Uncle Tom’s Cabin’.[64]

Von Suttner’s memoirs were published in 1909 and in English translation the following year. In the chapter on Die Waffen nieder! she wrote, ‘The publisher had no cause to regret his audacity: today the novel is circulated by hundreds of thousands and has been translated into a dozen languages. From this quite unexpected success I draw only one conclusion: the idea which permeates the book was to the taste of the public. In spite of the editors’ fears that the warlike German public would take no interest in the idea of peace, it was shown that this idea is cherished in wide circles – even in military circles’.[65] By this time, ten years had passed since the publication of Bas les armes! whose tortuous translation and lack of success were not typical. She says that if her novel had been published at the beginning of the 1870s, it ‘would have had no success whatever’. This was because at that time ‘the intoxication of victory still effervesced in Germany and the wrathful clamor for revenge still raged in France’.[66] As the comments from Nobel and de Morsier quoted above indicate, by the beginnings of the 1890s these clamours had not abated and their persistence throughout the decade and beyond help to explain why Bas les armes! was not a bestseller.

One factor which still needs to be considered in this respect is the French peace movement of the time. It is not the case that a possible explanation for the novel’s lack of success could be related to the absence, or weakness, of such a movement. When Die Waffen nieder! was published (1889), no peace movement existed in Austria or Germany. Indeed, spurred on by the success of the book, the author herself took the initiative for the founding of the Austrian peace society and also co-founded the German peace society. When Bas les armes! was published (1899), a relatively strong peace movement had developed in France which provided, it is not unreasonable to assume, a fertile ground for the novel’s reception. As Roger Chickering has written, by this time ‘the French peace movement was far more extensive than the German, and … far more successful in winning support for its program among important political groups and agencies of political education’.[67] He documents that ‘the decade of the 1890s was marked by the proliferation of new peace societies in France and the growth of those that had already been established’. Among the latter was the Association de la paix par le droit whose journal, La paix par le droit, had 3,000 subscribers in 1899. In that year, the country had twenty different peace societies, many of which had several local branches. It was in an effort to coordinate their work (and also to serve as an intermediary between them and the International Peace Bureau) that in 1896 Gaston Moch created a central agency, the Bureau français de la paix.[68] In 1900 he reported that some 400 different organisations were affiliated to it; around the turn of the century (1898-1902), twenty-seven new peace societies were formed in France and in 1902 French peace societies started to hold annual congresses. Chickering writes, ‘On the eve of the war the French peace movement was, organizationally at least, an impressive phenomenon’.[69]

One of his main sources is Alfred H. Fried, von Suttner’s close collaborator, who made an effort to measure the strength of the peace movement in various European countries at the beginning of the 20th century. He found that ‘the number of pacifists active in France is extraordinarily large’ and estimated that French peace societies counted at least 300,000 members. Fried also highlighted the fact that the peace idea was accepted and well represented in the political and public arena and had been making headway in the country already during the first half of the 19th century (culminating, as mentioned above, in the 1849 peace congress in Paris under the presidency of Victor Hugo) and was favoured by republicanism.[70] Noteworthy was the sympathy and support coming from the teaching profession. Fried reported that in 1902 the union of French primary school teachers, with 115,000 members, adopted the motto ‘war against war’. Indeed, when a German scholar published a study on the subject in 1920, he was able to give it the title, ‘The French primary school teachers as pace-makers of the peace movement’.[71] The characteristics of the French peace movement at the time of the publication of Bas les Armes! do not appear to support the views, alluded to above by several correspondents of von Suttner, that the climate was one of hate and hostility towards Germany and that there existed an uncompromising desire for revenge and war.

A separate study of the reception of the book in the French peace movement, and French society at large, might result in a clearer understanding of why the novel failed to be a bestseller in France. Was it perhaps because the blossoming peace movement there had generated its own, rich literature so that the appearance of Bas les Armes! was nothing special and did not meet with the same interest and publicity that the German original had elicited. Here, we offer only a few observations. Charles Richet made no reference to it in his two lectures on literature and peace that he gave as part of a series that was held during the winter of 1902-1903 in the École des Hautes Études Sociales in Paris.[72] She is not mentioned in La morale internationale. Ses origines – ses progrès by Jean Pélissier & Maxime-Emile Arnaud[73] even though the book’s last chapter is about pacifism and refers to leading figures of the French and international peace movement such as Gaston Moch, Frédéric Passy, Charles Richet, Hodgson Pratt, Randal Cremer – all of them her friends. Her name is also absent from a 350-page anthology of pacifist writers that was published in 1933 by Jean Souvenance & René de Sanzy, Anthologie des écrivains pacifistes.[74] Likewise, there are no references to von Suttner or her novel in a comprehensive history of pacifism and in a somewhat similar volume that focused on the history of pacifism and internationalism from the 17th to the 20th century.[75] There is a single reference to her (in passing, in a footnote) in the founding work of peace research (polemology) in France, Gaston Bouthoul’s Traité de sociologie. Les guerres. Eléments de polémologie.[76] This is a pity since von Suttner was a peace researcher ‘avant la lettre’ and could claim to have been the first female peace researcher; she was also the first female peace journalist, certainly in the German language. She was also a pioneer in peace education which was, as Werner Wintersteiner has argued, ‘a key component of the organised peace movement in Europe for which Bertha von Suttner was both the spokesperson and the icon’.[77] In common with several other early post-World War II works on peace research (in a variety of languages), Bouthoul’s treatise largely ignored 19th and early 20th century antecedents.[78]

In his great study on the history of internationalism during the long 19th century, from the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815) to the beginning of the First World War (1914), August Schou devoted several pages to Bertha von Suttner, including comments on her books. It is interesting to note that he refers to Die Waffen nieder! but does not mention its French translation even though Schou wrote in French. In a chapter devoted to the problem of peace in science and literature, her novel is not mentioned at all.[79] A few years later saw the publication of Jean Graven’s Le difficile progrès du règne de la justice et de la paix internationales par le droit. Des origines à la Société des Nations. A full page is devoted to von Suttner albeit in a footnote.[80] Following Schou, Graven refers to several of her books and mentions Die Waffen nieder – but adds, not in italics, Bas les armes – and the year 1889, leaving the impression that there is no French edition.

Apart from Bas les armes!, it seems that very few other works of Bertha von Suttner were translated and published in French while she was alive (or since). In 1904, Souvenirs de guerre appeared in the Bibliothèque Pacifiste Internationale.[81] A foreword (by S.-P.) mentions that the booklet comprises two short stories which the author put at the disposal of the series – which had her support and collaboration. Also that her novel, Bas les armes!, ‘one of the most stirring pleadings against war’, has been translated into all European languages. The story which has given its name to the booklet is followed by ‘Une ville où l’on s’amuse’ (‘A town where people are enjoying themselves’).[82]

It appears that the only one of her non-fiction works that has been translated into French is Rüstung und Überrüstung[83]; its translation appeared the following year as Armements et surarmements.[84] Edmond Duméril was the translator, and Alexandre Mérignhac, professor of public international law at the University of Toulouse, contributed a lengthy foreword.[85] Compared with Bas les armes!, which took ten years, this book – admittedly much shorter – was published within one year of the original. It also helped that, according to Mérignhac, the translator (a young graduate in German and philosophy) had produced a work of clarity and elegance that fully justified the confidence von Suttner had placed in him. It is noteworthy that whereas the French translation of Die Waffen nieder! was one of the last to appear of the many translations published before the First World War, Armements et surarmements seems to have been the first and only translation of it. Mérignhac quoted from Gaston Moch’s foreword to the ‘well-known book: Bas les armes’. Given the prominence of its author, Mérignhac predicted that the little work that Edmond Duméril had translated would enjoy the same success as that of the original edition in Germany.

Mérignhac pointed out the ‘curious spectacle’ and ‘singular phenomenon’ of the coincidence of the extraordinary intensity of the preparations for war (over-armament) and the danger of its occurrence and the rise of the peace movement.[86] He mentioned that he himself had written in earlier works that if the incessant arms race persisted it would either result in the ruin of Europe, or the most frightful battle. Mérignhac quoted several other authors who likewise argued that the question of disarmament, far from being a trifling one was an existential one (‘to be or not to be’; ‘disarm or perish’). He argued that von Suttner’s condemnation of ‘over-armament’ was well founded since it was absurd as well as harmful and dangerous. Militarism had become its own justification and persisted because of its own momentum which nothing could justify.[87] Mérignhac shared her view that complete and immediate disarmament was not the answer and was not what the peace movement demanded. It was a halt of the arms race and a reduction in the war budgets which had also been the (unrealised) objectives of the First Hague Peace Conference (1899). He pointed out that those in favour of arbitration, mediation, and peace were often falsely accused of wanting the chimera of total and immediate disarmament.

If Mérignhac had been writing today, he would perhaps have revised his view that ‘the pamphlet that M. Edmond Duméril has now translated, to be sure, does not have the same importance as Bas les armes’ (p. 10). The phenomenon of over-armament has grown exponentially since von Suttner wrote and her analysis of the problem remains as incisive and valid as ever. Then as now, the problem is hushed up; it is not on the agenda of governments and is kept out of public debate. The ‘race to the abyss’ continues.[88] Today, the famous doomsday clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists stands at its most perilous position ever in its 75-year-old history – at 100 seconds to midnight. Turning back the clock requires a change in public opinion – something which Bertha von Suttner and the international peace movement valiantly strove to bring about in the quarter-century before 1914. They were unable to avoid the catastrophe that occurred shortly after her death in June of that year. Werner Wintersteiner has rightly observed that, even 100 years later, we have no better recipe.[89]


Peter van den Dungen

August 2021



[1] ‘Bertha von Suttner, première femme prix Nobel de la paix’ – cf.


[2]Bas les armes! … parut en 1891 et fut traduit dans toutes les langues’.

[3] Paris: Bibliothèque-Charpentier/Eugène Fasquelle, Éditeur, 1899.

[4] In 1899, the original, 2-volume version of Die Waffen nieder! appeared in its 30th edition (Auflage), bringing the total to 30,000 copies; the inexpensive one- volume edition (Volks-Ausgabe) had then reached about the same number. By 1920, 275,000 copies of the latter edition had been printed. The publishing history of Die Waffen nieder! is complex and under-researched.

[5] Bertha von Suttner, Bas les armes! Roman. Avant-propos de Marie-Antoinette Marteil. Préface de Gaston Moch (Éditions Turquoise).

[6] Ibid., ‘Note de l’Éditeur’, p. 7. Most notes identify names of historic persons mentioned in the novel. The last note draws attention to an odd discrepancy between the French translation and the German original: at the end of the novel’s 6th book, the date of 1 February 1871 appears instead as 20 January 1871 (p. 380).

[7] Ibid., Note 5, added at the end of Moch’s preface, p. 26. The claim is unsubstantiated and inaccurate; his preface is silent about the translation and subsequent publication of the book, despite his great involvement (cf. below).

[8] Ibid., ‘Avant-Propos’, pp. 9-15. She writes that after a difficult start, Die Waffen nieder! had appeared in 80 editions by 1917. However, that year saw the publication of the 40th edition. Perhaps the larger number is reached by adding the popular edition (Volks-Ausgabe), copies of which were identified by the imprint (e.g., 191st – 210th thousand), not an edition number. Cf. note 4 above. In her foreword to the reprint, Marteil showed a surprising lack of curiosity about the French translation and publication of the novel.

[9] Marie-Antoinette Marteil, Bertha von Suttner (1843-1914), militante laïque, féministe, pacifiste. L’œuvre d’une aristocrate autrichienne en rupture avec la Tradition (Paris : L’Harmattan, 2014). Von Suttner’s break with tradition, as a pacifist, feminist, and freethinker is well argued.

[10] Ibid., p. 118, note 329. This is the only mentioning of him in the volume. The source of a quotation is given as Bas les armes (p. 204, note 560) when it is  clearly meant to be to Die Waffen nieder! Less easy to explain is the reference that reads, ‘Bas les armes, pp. 83-86, Die Waffen nieder, pp. 82-83’ (p. 262, note 718). No French edition is mentioned in the bibliography; the page numbers indicated for Bas les armes do not apply to the original French edition or its modern reprint.

[11] Ibid., pp. 317-332. Although this is not mentioned, it excludes all publications which are not in German, notably also several ones in French which she briefly refers to in the book (cf. below).

[12] Ibid., p. 55 & note 137.

[13] Congrès des Amis de la Paix Universelle Réuni à Paris en 1849 (Paris: Librairie De Guillaumin, 1850, pp. 3-5); Report of the Proceedings of the Second General Peace Congress held in Paris (London: Charles Gilpin, 1849, pp. 10-14) – ‘lay down your arms! Live in peace!’ (p. 11). Surprisingly, Hugo’s speech – which popularised the expression ‘the United States of Europe’ – is not mentioned in the chapter on ‘the prophecies of Victor Hugo on the United States of Europe’ in the documentary volume, Les Français à la recherche d’une Société des Nations depuis le roi Henri IV jusqu’aux combattants de 1914 (Paris: Bibliothèque de la « Civilisation Française », 1920, pp. 145-156). The speech is available in both French and English on the internet.

[14] Marteil says that von Suttner refers several times to Hugo’s speech but this is misleading (p. 55).

[15] According to Théodore Ruyssen, Les sources doctrinales de l’internationalisme (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, Vol. 3, 1961, p. 551). The author, a leading scholar and activist, errs twice when he says that it opened the first peace congress on 21st August (p. 456): it was the second one, opened on 22nd. The latter error is also found in Marteil (pp. 28 & 55, notes 35 & 137, respectively), and many other sources and seems to go back to an early edition of Hugo’s collected works. A concise biography of Ruyssen by Sandi E. Cooper and Bernerd C. Weber is in Warren F. Kuehl, ed., Biographical Dictionary of Internationalists (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1983, pp. 647-648).

[16] Marteil, op. cit., e.g. at pp. 41, 50, 82, 91 (including ‘Martha, alias Bertha). Also Christiane Ravy, in her excellent article ‘Bas les armes de Bertha von Suttner: Un roman d’engagement a la cause pacifiste’, refers to ‘Bertha von Suttner – Martha Althaus’ (Austriaca, No. 42, June 1996, pp. 81-88 at p. 85).

[17] Bertha von Suttner, Lay Down Your Arms. The Autobiography of Martha von Tilling (London: Longmans, Green, 1892, p. 364). In her recent edition of the novel, Barbara Burns provides annotations for the names and events that Martha recorded in the Protocol (Cambridge: Modern Humanities Research Association, 2019, pp. 289-291, notes 306-320).

[18] Ibid., p. 366. It is perhaps for this reason that the short paragraph on William Penn and the Quakers has been excised from Bas les armes! (at p. 391; p. 335 in the 2015 reprint).

[19] Ibid., pp. 366-367 (1892 ed.), p. 291 (2019 ed.).

[20] Sandi E. Cooper, Patriotic Pacifism: Waging War on War in Europe, 1815-1914 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991, p. 24).

[21] Memoirs of Bertha von Suttner. The Records of an Eventful Life (Boston: Ginn & Company for the International School of Peace, 1910, Vol. 1, pp. 72-73). This was an authorised translation of the Memoiren, published in one volume the previous year. Marteil’s references to von Suttner’s memoirs are to the modern German edition by Fritz Böttger published as Lebenserinnerungen (Berlin: Verlag der Nation, 5th ed. 1976). The memoirs were translated into English, but not French. It is confusing when she refers to Mémoires (p. 73, note 188).

[22] Memoirs, Vol. 1, pp. 307-311. The letter is among fifteen letters from Bodenstedt, covering the years 1885-1891, that are preserved in von Suttner’s archives (Fried/Suttner Papers) in the League of Nations Archives in the UN Library in Geneva, IPB/FSP/BvS/Box 14/File 155/2.

[23] Marie-Claire Hoock-Demarle, Bertha von Suttner 1843-1914. Amazone de la paix (Villeneuve d’Ascq: Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, 2014).

[24] Ibid., pp. 122-123. Hoock-Demarle mentions Bas les armes! only once, in brackets, as the translation of the title of Die Waffen nieder! (p. 113).

[25] The letter is in the correspondence of Alfred Nobel and Bertha von Suttner edited by Edelgard Biedermann: ‘Chère Baronne et Amie, Cher monsieur et ami’. Der Briefwechsel zwischen Alfred Nobel und Bertha von Suttner (Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 2001, p. 97); the translation (from the French) is mine. See also the French edition: Chère Baronne et Amie, Cher monsieur et ami. Correspondance entre Alfred Nobel et Bertha von Suttner (La Plaine Saint-Denis: Éditions Turquoise, 2015, p. 168). The bibliography at the end of this edition mentions that only a few works by von Suttner have been translated into French ‘at the beginning of the 20th century, especially Die Waffen nieder! (Bas les armes!) which enjoyed a great success’. A note says, ‘probably translated by Gaston Moch’ (cf. pp. 346, 351). The important Biedermann volume has also been translated into Italian: Alfred Nobel – Bertha von Suttner. Un’ amicizia disvelata. Carteggio 1883-1896 (Bergamo: Moretti & Vitali, 2013) but so far not into English.

[26] Hubert Kaut, ed., Bertha von Suttner. Katalog der Sonderausstellung im Historischen Museum der Stadt Wien (Wien: Neues Rathaus, 1950, p. 26). The translation from the German is mine. The letter is in the Wiener Stadtbibliothek.

[27] Ibid., pp. 27-28. The same section also displayed a letter of von Suttner to K. E. Franzos of 4 January 1898 in which she says that Die Waffen nieder! is now in its 28th edition and has been translated into all European languages – ‘that surely shows that the idea of the victory over militarism is, at last, in the air’. In fact, the French translation was still being revised and would be published the following year (cf. below). The catalogue contains an illustration of this part of the letter (which is in the Wiener Stadtbibliothek).

[28] L’ International. Publication Hebdomadaire. Chefs-d’Oeuvre Littéraire. Premier Numéro de l’ouvrage Bas les armes! Histoire d’une Vie, par Mme Bertha von Suttner. These details are taken from the front cover of the weekly, an illustration of which is reproduced in the chapter by Martin Gregor-Dellin, ‘Bertha von Suttner – Aus Menschenliebe gegen den Krieg’ in Michael Neumann, ed., Der Friedens-Nobelpreis von 1905 bis 1916 (Zug: Edition Pacis, 1988, pp. 30-93, at p. 57).

[29] The two bibliographies have been reprinted in Peter van den Dungen, ed., From Erasmus to Tolstoy. The Peace Literature of Four Centuries; Jacob ter Meulen’s Bibliographies of the Peace Movement before 1899 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1990, p. 125).

[30] Nadine Lubelski, ‘Bertha von Suttner. Première femme Prix Nobel de la Paix’, in Femmes de culture & de pouvoir. Liber Amico-Arum Andrée Despy-Meyer. Sextant: Revue bisannuelle publiée par le Groupe interdisciplinaire d’Études sur les Femmes avec le concours du Fonds Suzanne Tassier (ULB), 13/14, 2000, pp. 119-147, at p. 126, note 22. It has so far not been possible to discover more about the translator. The Nègre family originates in southern France, notably in Nîmes, where in 1897 l’Association de la Paix par le Droit was founded. Several members of the large family were prominent scientists or politicians and perhaps friends of Gaston Moch. I am grateful to Nadine Lubelski for this information and suggesting possible lines of enquiry.

[31] Memoirs, op. cit., Vol. 2, chapter LII, p. 156. The error [Tasquelles = Fasquelles] is in the original (Memoiren von Bertha von Suttner. Stuttgart & Leipzig: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1909, p. 379) and is repeated in the translation. It is also repeated in the edition of the Memoiren edited by Lieselotte von Reinken (Bremen: Carl Schünemann Verlag, 1965, p. 344) but the correct name is in the edition by Fritz Böttger, Lebenserinnerungen, op. cit., p. 391.

[32] Cf. Box 23/File 296/2. He introduced himself and enquired about undertaking a translation of one of her novels for a Parisian journal. For information about him, see All the letters to Bertha von Suttner preserved in her archive in the UN library in Geneva have been digitised and are freely accessible at

[33] Ibid., Letter of 10 February 1897; he confirmed this again in June when the serialisation had been completed. Cf. Box 24/File 309/2(5-6). The Russian sociologist’s handwritten comments are often difficult to decipher, also because of faintness. In the archival note he is incorrectly described as Romanian instead of Russian. See the concise biography by Sandi E. Cooper in Harold Josephson, ed., Biographical Dictionary of Modern Peace Leaders (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985, pp. 705-707).

[34] Lubelski, op. cit., p. 126.

[35] Cf. Catalogue de L’Exposition de la Paix [etc.] (Berne: Imprimerie Büchler, 1900), with an introductory notice by Moch.

[36] Cf. BIP/IPB archives in the UN Library in Geneva, 155/1 and referred to in Peter van den Dungen, ‘Élie Ducommun, le Musée de la Guerre et de la Paix à Lucerne, l’Exposition Universelle de Paris’, in Roger Durand, ed., Élie Ducommun – Prix Nobel de la Paix Méconnu (Genève: Genève Humanitaire & Institut National Genevois, 2012, pp. 193-216, at pp. 208-216). A concise biography of Gaston Moch (1859-1935) by Sandi E. Cooper is in Harold Josephson, op. cit., pp. 645-647; elsewhere she writes that according to Jules Moch, the socialist politician and son of Gaston Moch, many family papers (including his father’s from 1889) were deliberately destroyed in 1940 with the German occupation of France. Cf. Patriotic Pacifism, op. cit., p. 224, note 14. Verdiana Grossi, in Le Pacifisme Européen 1889-1914 (Bruxelles: Bruylant, 1994, pp. 83-89) devotes a special section to Moch who is mentioned throughout her book. So far, I have not been able to consult his article, ‘Madame de Suttner et son livre Bas les Armes!’ in Journal de la Corniche, 27 March 1904 mentioned by Grossi (p. 61 note 48). There is a warm tribute to him in the obituary by Gabriel Chavet in Le Mouvement Pacifiste, November-December 1935, pp. 134-137.

[37] Bulletin Officiel du IXe Congrès Universel de la Paix – Paris 1900 (Berne : Bureau International de la Paix, 1901). Von Suttner wrote in her Memoirs, ‘We made a flying visit to the Exposition under the guidance of Charles Richet’, who presided the congress (Vol. 2, p. 364).

[38] Cf. Catalogue, pp. 22-23.

[39] Cf. Box 23, File 290/1.

[40] It can be noted that he complained about the typesetting more than a month before publication of the first instalment which is somewhat puzzling.

[41] There are only two references to Gaston Moch in her Randglossen columns:  for August 1896 and January 1897. In both cases, she refers to his articles in the newspaper, specifying the weekly edition in the latter case. Cf. Bertha von Suttner, Der Kampf um die Vermeidung des Weltkriegs. Randglossen aus zwei Jahrzehnten zu den Zeitereignissen vor der Katastrophe, ed. Alfred H. Fried (Zürich: Orell Füssli, Vol. 1, 1917, pp. 335 & 368).

[42] So far, I have not been able to discover whether any copies have been preserved in the von Suttner archives.

[43] Eugène Fasquelle had been secretary of the Charpentier Library publishing house since 1886 and became its sole proprietor upon the retirement of Georges Charpentier ten years later (1896).

[44] Cf. Box 23/File 290/1(11).

[45] This remark is puzzling since it suggests that the translation used was not the one made (from the German) by Marie Nègre that had been serialised in L’Indépendance belge; cf. above & notes 30 & 31. Leopold Katscher mentions ‘two French translations‘ but provides no details. Cf. Bertha von Suttner, die “Schwärmerin” für Güte (Dresden: E. Pierson, 1903, p. 130).

[46] Cf. Sandi E. Cooper, ‘Bertha von Suttner’s Daughters: Pacifist Sisterhood (Die Töchter der Bertha von Suttner: Pazifistische Schwesterlichkeit)‘, in Internationaler Bertha-von-Suttner Verein, ed., Friede – Fortschritt – Frauen: Friedensnobelpreisträgerin Bertha von Suttner auf Schloss Harmannsdorf (Münster: LIT Verlag, 2007, pp. 143-154, at pp. 146-147). A concise biography of Royer by Linda L. Clark is in Josephson, Biographical Dictionary, op. cit., pp. 823-825. In 1866 she had gone so far as to advocate the suppression of standing armies in the respected Journal des Economistes.

[47] Moch, Préface, Bas les armes! [1899], op. cit., p. I. This year saw the 29th and 30th printings (each of 1,000 copies) of the 2-volume edition of Die Waffen nieder!

[48] Ibid., pp. II-III.

[49] For the 2015 French edition, Roman (Novel) has been added to the title. In several modern German editions, Eine Lebensgeschichte has been replaced by Roman. The English translation was subtitled, The Autobiography of Martha von Tilling. The subtitle does not appear on the title-page of the most recent reprint of Lay Down Your Arms, edited by Barbara Burns, but is given on the title-page immediately preceding the reprint (Cambridge: Modern Humanities Research Association, 2019, p. 17).

[50] Moch, Préface, pp. X-XII.

[51] As evidenced by a file in the von Suttner archive (Box 30/4) which lists 157 correspondents who had read Die Waffen nieder! in the period 1890-1913. Some striking examples are quoted by Edelgard Biedermann, Erzählen als Kriegskunst. Die Waffen nieder! von Bertha von Suttner (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 1995, pp. 322-323). Pierson’s wife was so immensely enthusiastic about the novel that she longed to meet ‘this extraordinary woman’ (p. 156, note 372)

[52] Box 23/File 290/1(22). Moch nominated Passy and the International Peace Bureau (IPB) for the first award, and von Suttner for the 1904 and 1905 awards; he himself was nominated in each of the years 1911-1914 by Anna Zipernowsky, a fellow IPB council member. She has been called the Hungarian Bertha von Suttner; for a concise biography, see the entry on her by Gabor Vermes in Josephson, Biographical Dictionary, op. cit., pp. 1051-1052. Full details about Moch as a nominator and nominee are at


[53] Box 23/File 290/1(29).

[54] Box 21/File 251/1(4).

[55] A large photo taken on the day of its inauguration, showing prince Albert I with Bertha von Suttner and Gaston Moch, is reproduced at the front of the 2015 edition of Bas les armes!

[56] For more information about the Institute, cf.; also see Grossi, pp. 15, 346-347; Cooper, p. 82.

[57] Cf. Bulletin Officiel du XIe Congrès Universel de la Paix tenu à Monaco du 2 au 6 avril 1902 (Berne: Bureau International de la Paix/Monaco: Imprimerie de Monaco, 1902, pp. 49-50; my translation). He put forward the same view in a substantial, 400-page book (Le Passé de la Guerre et l’Avenir de la Paix, 1907) that von Suttner (allegedly) translated into German: Die Vergangenheit des Krieges und die Zukunft des Friedens (1909), published by the Austrian Peace Society in Vienna. Even though she had a high regard for the book and its distinguished author and friend, it is surprising that she would have found the time to undertake this work. The translation was made by her close friend Graefin Hedwig Poetting but attributed to von Suttner to help sell the book. This was revealed in Fried’s obituary of Poetting in Friedens-Warte (Vol. 17, June 1915, p. 156). Richet received the Nobel prize in physiology or medicine in 1913; he was a nominee, as well as nominator, also for the peace prize in many years – see

1897 saw the publication of F. A. Fawkes’s novel about the future, Marmaduke, Emperor of Europe (1895) in von Suttner’s translation (Der Kaiser von Europa). It was published as a book and also serialised in Die Romanwelt.

[58] Bulletin, op. cit., pp. 54-55.

[59] Box 23/File 290/1(16).

[60] Cf. Memoirs, Vol. 1, Ch. 23, pp. 275-286, p. 285. In the last chapters of Lay Down Your Arms, Martha reports on her visits to Paris in 1867 and 1870 and on the dangers of war and the pressure of the war party on Napoleon III.

[61] Letter of 15 March 1890; Box 22/File 280/1(30-34); the translation is mine. On this subject, see Jean-François Dominé, ‘L’image du Prussien dans la littérature française contemporaine’ in Revue historique des armées, 269, 2012, pp. 11-25. The article can be accessed at

[62] Box 22/File 280/1(30-34). This is the last letter in the file for Löwenthal which covers the years 1882-1890. The nefarious influence of teachers and history books for primary schools was also pointed out by Charles Richet in his book that was published in the same year as Bas les armes!, viz. Les guerres et la paix. Étude sur l’arbitrage international (Paris : Librairie C. Reinwald/Schleicher Frères, Éditeurs, 1899, pp. 141-143).

[63] Biedermann (2001), op. cit., p. 90; von Suttner reprinted the same letter in Memoiren, Ch. 33, pp. 238-239 and Memoirs, Vol. 1, p. 387. The date of the publication of the appeal in Neue Freie Presse is erroneously given as 9 September but correctly as 3 September earlier on, when it is reproduced (cf. Ch. 29, p. 204 and Vol. 1, p. 335, respectively).

[64] Box 23/File 296/3.

[65] Memoirs, Vol. 1, pp. 297-298. Gaston Moch himself had been an artillery officer in the French army from which he resigned in 1893. The following year she heard about Rear Admiral Paul-Émile Réveillère, an old French naval officer who had participated ‘in many naval battles and many battles of ideas’. He had joined the pacifists, and she corresponded with him for many years. Ibid., Vol. II, pp. 61-65; some 25 of his letters to her are preserved, cf. Box 26/File 338/1.

[66] Memoirs, Vol.1, p. 298.

[67] Roger Chickering, Imperial Germany and a World Without War: The Peace Movement in German Society, 1892-1914 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1975, p. 331). See the chapter, ‘Excursus: The Peace Movement in France’, pp. 327-383.

[68] Consolidation proved impossible and the Bureau remained a loose confederation which in 1902 was renamed Délégation permanente des sociétés françaises de la paix. Cf. Chickering, pp. 337-341.

[69] Chickering, pp. 338-339. Confirmation and ample documentation can be found in contemporary publications by the International Peace Bureau. For instance, in the Liste des organes du mouvement pacifiste au 1er Janvier 1907, those in France occupy 14 pages (compared with 3 for Britain, 2 for Germany, and 1 for Austria). Likewise, in the 350-page Annuaire du mouvement pacifiste pour l’année 1913, 30 of the nearly 90 pages listing peace societies in Europe are taken up by France, compared with 20 pages for Britain and 5 for Germany.  

[70] Alfred H. Fried, Die moderne Friedensbewegung (Leipzig: B. C. Teubner, 1907, pp. 79-84).

[71] Reinhold Lehmann, Die Französischen Volksschullehrer als Schrittmacher der Friedensbewegung (Stuttgart: Verlag Friede durch Recht). His condemnation of the abuse of the media (which was partly responsible for World War I) in his introduction reminds us, one hundred years later, of the persistence of this scourge (‘fake news’); cf. p. 5.

[72] Cf. ‘La littérature et la paix’, in D’Estournelles de Constant, Frédéric Passy, H. La Fontaine et al., La paix et l’enseignement pacifiste (Paris : Félix Alcan, 1904, pp. 133-191).

[73] Monaco: Institut International de la Paix, 1912.

[74] Paris: Édition de l’Union des Intellectuels Pacifistes, 1933.

[75] Jean Defrasne, Le pacifisme (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, ‘Que sais-je?’, 1983) ; Marcel Merle, Pacifisme et internationalisme, XVIIe – XXe siècles (Paris: Armand Colin, 1966).

[76] Paris: Payot, 1951, p. 100, note 1. He mentions the ‘plaintive pacifist movement around Bertha Guttner’ in Germany around the time of the 1914 war. The misspelling is also in the index and remained uncorrected when the same publisher re-issued the book in 1970 as Traité de polémologie. Sociologie des guerres.

[77] See his chapter titled ‘Die Waffen nieder! – Ein friedenspädagogisches Programm? Friedenserziehung in Österreich-Ungarn und im Deutschen Reich am Vorabend des Ersten Weltkriegs (Lay Down Your Arms! – A Programme for Peace Education? Peace Education in Austria-Hungary and in the German Reich on the Eve of World War I)’ in Friede – Fortschritt – Frauen, op. cit., pp. 107-130, at p. 130.

[78] For an excellent presentation of Bertha von Suttner as a sociologist, cf. Eveline Thalmann, ‘Bertha von Suttner – eine Soziologin?’ in Beatrice Müller-Kampel & Marion Linhardt, eds., LiThes. Zeitschrift für Literatur- und Theatersoziologie, Vol. 10, 2017, Sonderband 4, pp. 5-166, esp. pp. 5-42.

[79] Histoire de l’internationalisme (Oslo: H. Aschehoug, 1963). The volume was published by the Norwegian Nobel Institute of which Schou was then director.

[80] Paris : A. Pédone, 1970, p. 400, note 549.

[81] Paris : V. Giard & E. Brière, pp. 32.

[82] Among other short stories or articles translated and published in French is ‘Le bon chemin’ (‘The good road’, about justice as the only way to peace) in Almanach de la paix pour 1895 (Paris: Plon, Nourrit, 1894, p. 60).

[83] Berlin: Hesperus-Verlag, 1909, pp. 71.

[84] Toulouse: Édouard Privat & Paris: Auguste Picard, 1910, pp. 107. Marteil seems to be unaware of it; she refers to the German edition and translates it as ‘Armement, surarmement’ (p. 45) and ‘Armement et surarmement’ (p. 66).

[85] Ibid., pp. 7-23.

[86] This coincidence is not hard to explain: the history of the peace movement shows that it is often a reaction to an armaments race and an increase in the perceived danger of war.

[87] Von Suttner’s analysis anticipated the notion of a military-industrial complex which has increasingly come to the fore since the 1960s as an obstacle to disarmament and demilitarisation. During her 1912 speaking tour in the US, she referred to the ‘War Trust‘ and said, ‘It is the armor plate companies that are responsible for the continuation of armies … The military spirit of Europe is fostered by the war trust that owns every publication on the continent … The armament companies with private profit for an incentive are back of all the horrors of the world’. Cf. ‘Baroness “Fighting” For Peace Pits Her Strength Against War Trust’ in San Francisco Chronicle, 9th July 1912. I am grateful to Hugh Coyle for drawing my attention to this article. She would be very disappointed to know that today the heart of the ‘War Trust’ is in the US and that, also through NATO, its tentacles have spread far and wide.

[88] She wrote, ‘dieses Totschweigen ist nach und nach zur allgemeinen Lösung geworden … Eine Wettlauf zum Abgrund ist es’ (Rüstung und Überrüstung, pp. 8 & 17); ‘Ce silence de mort est peu à peu devenu le mot d’ordre général … C’est une course à l’abîme‘ (Armements et surarmements, pp. 29 & 40). That the ultimate destruction would come down from the sky she prophesied and warned about in another perceptive essay published a few years later, Die Barbarisierung der Luft (Berlin: Verlag der “Friedens-Warte”, 1912). Its first complete English translation, The Barbarization of the Sky, was made by Belinda Cooper and edited by Hope Elizabeth May (Mount Pleasant, Michigan: The Bertha von Suttner Project, 2016).

[89] Werner Wintersteiner, ‘Der Kampf um die Vermeidung des Weltkriegs. Bertha von Suttner und die Österreichische Friedensbewegung vor 1914 aus heutiger Sicht‘ in Johann Georg Lughofer & Milan Tvrdik, eds., Suttner in Kon Text. Interdisziplinäre Beiträge zu Werk und Leben der Friedensnobelpreisträgerin (Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2017, pp. 17-44, at p. 28).



Abstract of article (in French)



Bas les armes! (1899) – Le roman pacifiste de Bertha von Suttner en français:

La naissance tardive et pénible d’un non-bestseller


La baronne autrichienne Bertha von Suttner, une amie d’Alfred Nobel et la première lauréate du prix Nobel de la Paix (1905), se trouvait à la tête du mouvement international de la paix après le succès éclatant de son roman pacifiste, Die Waffen nieder! (1889). C’était un bestseller qui fut traduit en presque toutes les langues européennes tandis que l’édition française, Bas les armes! (1899) ne paraissait qu’après un délai de dix ans (1899). Les difficultés survenant étaient mentionnées dans les lettres de Gaston Moch à l’auteure. Le chef du mouvement pacifiste français était au centre de l’entreprise. On ne sait pas pourquoi l’édition française ne fut pas un bestseller bien que le mouvement de la paix en France fut relativement puissant. Les auteures françaises qui ont récemment publié des biographies de Bertha von Suttner mentionnent à peine l’existence même de la traduction. De plus, la première réimpression de Bas les armes! (2015) après plus d’un siècle garde le silence sur les questions de la traduction et de la publication du roman sauf à affirmer que Moch en fut le traducteur, ce qui est faux.