Charles Peguy: Basic Verities. 115. Anti and Julian Green. (Kegan Paul, 10s, 6d.) Reviewed by IRIS CONLAY
cHARLES Peguy was a great — Christian revolutionary, but he believed in a blessed rather than
a bloody revolution. He believed, in fact, in a revolution that would turn all bad men into good men; that would honour, not despise, poverty and would truly establish peace. His beliefs were as big as that and as simple as that, and his life was as sweeping and uncompromising as his principles.
To understand Peguy is the easiest thing in the world. He saw things straight and wrote them down as he saw them To love him must have been irresistible since through all his impractical schemes his friends remained beside him.
His setting is France, pre-the-lastwar France. It worried Peguy that he had been born in a period and not in an epoch, so restless was be for action. Not to be up and doing; not to be expending himself always alarmed him:
He wrote once: " The worst of par tialities is to withhold oneself; the worst ignorance is not to act; the worst lie is to steal away."
His background is the peasantry of France, a peasantry which fundamentally has not changed since medieval times. And Peguy was more at home with St. Joan of Arc than his own contemporaries. Most of his life be was writing dramas around St. Joan. His devotion to poverty he derived from the happiness of his early days spent without wealth or comfort. His horror of destitution came from the same source. " Tr, tear the destitute from destitution is a prior and preliminary duty . before the accomplishment of which one cannot even examine what the first social duty is to He did not feel that way about poverty. It was on a different plane. He even welcomed it for himself
as St. Francis did " my sister Poverty . . ."
IN his early life he profeesed to be A an atheist, but his conversion to Catholicism was not a great change.In fact he maintains it was no change
at all, only an evolution. He always remained the same, the simple being who at one point in his essentially happy life had suddenly found the need of Someone to say thank You for it. Of conversion's inward struggle, Peguy has characteristically said nothing. That it was fraught with difficulties Julian Green in his introduction suggests:
" He had married into a family of staunch unbelievers and his children... were unbaptised. Nor would Madame Peguy hear of having them 1;,,pti.sed. And, of course, in the eye.s of the Church. he and Madame Peguy were not married. So if was impossible for Peguy to live as a Catholic."
After his conversion came his great poems. The Porch of the Mystery of the Second Virtue deals with hope: Here God speaks
" I know man wen. It is 1 who
made hint. A funny creature... You can ask a lot of kindness of him, a lot of charity, a lot of sacrifice. He has much faith and much charity. But what you can't ask of Him, by gum, is a little hope."
Then came The Mystery of the Holy Innocents which is concerned with' perfect confidence in God. Here God speaks again : " I don't like the man who doesn't sleep.
Sleep is the friend of man, Sleep is the friend of God.
Sleep is perhaps the most beautiful thing I have created.
And I myself rested on the seventh day. .
He whose 'heart is pure sleeps. And he who sleeps has a pure heart... But they tell me there are men Who work well and sleep badly.
Who don't sleep. Whata lack of confidence in nte .."
In 1912 this sort of writing was not liked. Peguy made his enemies. His poetry, of which these are the merest fragments, is like the Church's litanies, they are almost incantations. Gide says Peguy's style is like Arab chants, like prayers said over and over again. Peguy said he had no style at all.
I N 1914 Peguy's period became an epoch: the epoch he had longed for. He had cried out for a crusade. So the war to him became a crusade. He rushed to battle. andewas killed in the first month. A. year earlier he wrote prophetically of himself :
" Blessed are those who died in great battles, Stretched out on the ground in the face of God.
Blessed are those who died in a just war, Blessed is the wheat that is ripe and the wheat that is gathered in sheaves."
Basic Verities collects fragmentarily. but essentially, the soul of Peguy. It has the French text on one page with the English opposite. As much a preacher as a poet, Peguy has, outside of his feelings on war. Much in common with our own Eric Gill, and he deserves to be appreciated more in Catholic England. at least. His writings tire the man as much as his deeds. but in a short life which precedes this collection one may learn how he championed Dreyfus, and opened the world's first Workers' .Bookshop. .