Imágenes de páginas


1. Euvres Complètes de Charles Péguy. Tomes I et II. Paris: Nouvelle Revue Française, 1917.

2. Jeanne d'Arc. Émile-Paul. Paris, 1897.

3. Cahiers de la Quinzaine. Paris, 1900-1914.*

4. Notre Patrie (Cahier, 1905). Nouvelle Revue Française, 1915.

5. Euvres choisies, 1900-1910. Paris: Grasset, 1911.

6. Morceaux choisis des œuvres poétiques de Charles Péguy, 1912-1913. Paris: Ollendorff, 1914.

7. Avec Charles Péguy, de la Lorraine à la Marne. Par Victor Boudon. Paris: Hachette, 1916.

8. Charles Péguy. Par Paul Seippel. Par Paul Seippel. Paris: Payot,


To a chosen few men it is given to work out perfect lives. They may have known little happiness and much sorrow; they may have been long absent from felicity, and yet their lives, which we are forced to judge by some more ultimate standard of their own, are perfect. The deep congruity of their achievement, the indissoluble harmony of their life and their work, the unfaltering rhythm of their mortal progress, the unmistakable sense that they are inscribing themselves as with a sculptor's chisel upon the perdurable rock-such are the qualities which invest them with the significance of an artistic whole. Although we may have thought that something yet remained to be done, when they die, suddenly striding into the darkness as travellers along a familiar road, we also suddenly understand how their lives have been perpetually complete.

So calmly and magnificently, 'his wages taken and the long day done,' did Charles Péguy stride the ultimate stage along a great road when he died for France on Sept. 5, 1914. It is not that his death was braver or more heroic than the innumerable brave and heroic deaths of this war. It is different from those, perhaps, only in that it contained a greater measure of conscious and deliberate sacrifice, and of certainty that the sacrifice

The whole of Péguy's work appeared in these Cahiers, which he published himself.

would not be unavailing. The glory of the others is great and cannot be diminished; they also died for their country. But there is a sense in which it is given only to a chosen few, 'a band of brothers,' to die for their country. They alone have brought the unconscious idealism of their countrymen to consciousness; they alone know exactly for what high end they have faced death. They give up their lives for that which is eternal in their country, with open eyes, for the vision and the dream which is the reality. In this profounder sense they alone die for their country who are spiritually prepared.

Péguy's life was a long and unremitting spiritual preparation for his death. His work as a writer was essentially the slow and laborious tempering of an instinctive patriotism, the untiring effort to apprehend France sub specie æternitatis,' and to be sure in consciousness, as he was by instinct, that there was that in France for which all that he had and was might be justly sacrificed. And more than this. He strove and fought to make his country true to her high calling. At every stage in his own discovery of France, France must subdue herself to the ideal purposes which he disclosed in her. In cahier after cahier, with the hammer-beat of the strong prose which, in his hand, slowly forges the expression into a final fidelity to the real, he strove to fashion France and himself after their common truth. Thus it is that his death becomes incorporated with his life in one complete achievement. It is seen at last to be as truly his own work as the clear ringing prophecy of the poem in his last cahier :

[ocr errors]

Heureux qui sont morts dans les grandes batailles.
Couchés dessus le sol à la face de Dieu.

[ocr errors]

For he who died at the moment of agony when the spring of France, bent by the barbarian onrush almost beyond endurance, trembled between snapping and victorious recoil, had laboured his life long to make that recoil certain. As he charged at the head of his men up the height of Nantouillet, he was riding the crest of a wave of his own creation. More truly, he was himself the crest of the wave. Péguy, the pion as his men called him (in this also, as though prophetically, recognised as

the educator of eternal France), said no memorable words in that final hour, but only 'Tirez toujours.' To the last, M. Boudon's story tells us, he was wholly l'homme du métier; and even at the moment when he died, the hope of victory had become a certainty in the heart of France.

For other men who laboured to live the life of art and whose lives have been cut off in this war, our grief is abiding. It may be that their aspirations were transmuted under the alchemy of hours of destiny; but we who can judge them only for what they seemed to be, remember only that their aspirations, which we knew, were denied fulfilment. When we contemplate the death of Charles Péguy we are fortified by an abiding sense of consummation. The single movement of a life devoted to an ideal passes proudly into the poise of completion.

Charles Péguy was born on Jan. 7, 1873, at Orléans. On both sides he descended from an old peasant stock; his father's family had been vignerons of the Val de Loire ; his mother's, woodmen of the Bourbonnais. His father died early, and his mother made a livelihood by renting out and repairing the straw-seated chairs in the cathedral of Orléans. In this peasant-workman childhood his spirit was formed. The spirit of the cathedral, and the instinctive knowledge that to work and to pray were one, accompanied him all his life. For him the divorce between art and work was never made. In the cathedral of which he was the child they were one; it was the expression of the ideal aspiration of humanity, but it was also the solid work of many men. True masons, men who worked with their hands honestly and were glad, who were good workmen before all things-such, Péguy knew as a child, were the builders of cathedrals and such the builders of the world. Before he left his home to receive another and a new education as a boursier in the great Ecole Normale of Paris, he was formed. His soul was not wax to be shaped by the fingers of his masters; it was a touchstone to try their teaching. He was already a workman. We see him in vision as a boy already with a little hammer in his hand, such as one hears ringing on the wheels of a railway train when it comes after a long journey to a halt. So, with his hammer, the young

Péguy tapped each doctrine put before him with an absorbed intention. The ring of soundness and the discord of the flaw were his standards; and he applied them with a steady seriousness. 'J'ai toujours tout pris au sérieux,' he was to write of his school-days afterwards. 'Ça m'a mené loin.' It led him far and by lonely ways.

He embraced, as he thought, the Socialism of the day; he abandoned, as he thought, the religion of his childhood. In truth, he did neither. His Socialism took the phrases which were meant to be whittled away by a parliamentary' interpretation, as a literal, humane and reasonable creed, whose vital strength lay in the infinite love which a man should feel for his neighbour. It was for him not a political programme, but a religion; and, though it took him some years to understand this wholly, his new religion was identical with his old. It has been said that Péguy became a convert to the Catholic faith. Péguy was never converted; he was always a believer. The Socialist City was for him a city in which men did honourable work, loving their labour, secure from misery, and loving no less their fellow workmen, for the honourable work which they also did. Thus it was inevitable that in the practical' world he should be excommunicated both from above and below. The empty rhetoric of the theorists, the incessant equivocation of the grandiose and empty phrase, the unfair hostility to honest effort, drove him to abandon the career marked out for him by the Ecole Normale. He entered into Socialist politics only to be alienated by the cupidity of its demagogues and the blasphemy of its methods. Nothing less than the word 'blasphemy' could convey the indignant horror with which the doctrine and the practice of sabotage inspired him. It was to him incredible that this should have sprung from the workmen themselves. It was a bourgeois method, and its adoption was a bourgeois victory.

[ocr errors]

'Nous avons connu un honneur du travail exactement le même que celui qui au moyen âge régissait la main et le cœur. C'était le même conservé intact en dessous. Nous avons connu ce soin poussé jusqu'à la perfection, égal dans l'ensemble, égal dans le plus infime détail. Nous avons connu cette piété de l'ouvrage bien faite poussée, maintenue jusqu'à ses plus extrêmes exigences. J'ai vu toute mon enfance

rempailler des chaises exactement du même esprit et du même cœur, et de la même main, que ce même peuple avait taillé ses cathédrales.

'Que reste-t-il aujourd'hui de tout cela? Comment a-t-on fait, du peuple le plus laborieux de la terre, et peut-être du seul peuple laborieux de la terre, du seul peuple peut-être qui aimait le travail pour le travail, et pour l'honneur, et pour travailler, ce peuple de saboteurs? comment a-t-on pu en faire ce peuple qui sur un chantier met tout son étude à ne pas en fiche le coup? Ce sera dans l'histoire une des plus grandes victoires et sans doute la seule, de la démagogie bourgeoise intellectuelle. Mais il faut avouer qu'elle compte, cette victoire.'

On leaving the Ecole Normale Péguy married the daughter of a Socialist, who brought to him as dowry some 16007. For the first and the last time in his life he had a moderately large sum of money at his disposal. With the consent and at the desire of his wife and her family he spent it in establishing a Socialist publishing bookshop in Paris. The venture failed. Péguy had to learn bitterly that professed Socialists treat a commercial rival just as a professed bourgeois does, and that they are as inexorable as the capitalists towards the man who seeks to advance the cause of humanity by other ways than they themselves prescribe. The Socialist politicians boycotted his bookshop; the Socialist press smothered his publications in a conspiracy of silence. To these his early play, 'Jeanne d'Arc' (1897), glorifying a national heroine and a canonised saint, was proof positive of heresy both to atheism and the Internationale. He sold, he tells us, but one single copy of it; no doubt he would not, under any circumstances, have sold many copies, for it was a book of 752 pages, published under name of Pierre Baudouin (a pseudonym which he was subsequently to use in brilliant dialogues with himself in the earlier Cahiers de la Quinzaine), and weighing about three pounds. He sought, however, not commercial success, but the assurance of sympathy and the honesty of a candid judge. Both these were denied him. His virtual outlawry served only to confirm him in his resolution to persevere in the way he had chosen.

At the outset of his career Péguy had been plunged into the Affaire Dreyfus. Herein he came into a contact

« AnteriorContinuar »