Living Poet of Politics
lion was the greatest single influence in his life. His family was of peasant stock. Peguy was rather proud of his grandmother, who could neither read nor write and he distrusted the cheap mass-education of the new age. But his feeling for the people led him towattle Socialism. In reality he. had a kind of interior vision of his own.
The Circle in Paris But Peguy's mature life can only be discussed in terms of the Caitiffs de he Quinzaine, the publications written by him and his associates which he himself issued and sold in his tiny bookshop in the university quarter of Paris. His associates were various, from Leon Blum to Romain Rolland and to Julien Benda. Later he saw much of Jacques and RaIssa Marilain. One of his closest friends was Mine. Fevre, Maritaitfs mother. He made one if not two pilgrimages to Chartres on foot from Paris to fulfil 'a vow. lie reverenced Henri Bergson. the philosopher, and defended him as he had once defended Dreyfus. He never travelled outside France and never (I think) saw the sea: indeed, he scarcely saw more than three towns apart from Paris all his life. The life of France he saw in terms of local life, the life of the paroisse, the parish. The university quarter in Paris became his parish and his penurious bookshop (often financially on the margin of subsistence) was a centre for discussions in which Piguy played the Socrates. But he was obstinate like a peasant, and sometimes quarrelsome, and he had clearly defined frontiers to his interest and knowledge.
Peguy evolved his owe medium of expression like a craftsman making his tools. It is quite individual and unique. It raises the old controversy about what is poetry and what is prose. Much of Peguy's writing was free verse, some was " prose " but much was something I have no name for. The constant repetitions in his Mysteries—that of Joan of Arc and the Holy Innocents— have a cumulative effect of a liturgy. One feels transplanted into an earlier hance " when the cathedrals were white," or it echoes in modern terms Villon or Joachim du Bellay. It smells of peasants and earth but there is never a trace of falseness. It is solid and stocky und French as Palmy was llinlself, Joan of Arc and Militarism After Pegusas death Julian Benda attacked hint with others of his epoch. such as Barris. D'Annunzio and Kipling, for " militarism " and for having committed the " treason of the clerks." Whether Benda would still endorse his comparison of 20 years ago I do not know. Peguy became one of the ideal figures for the French of the " Resistance" during the war, one about whom the Right and the Left could be fairly agreed, a meeting-point. Peguy was certainly not militarist in the modem National-Socialist (or National-Communist) sense. There was no " compensation " hysteria about his ideal of fighting in a just cause " for the paroisse" like Joan of Arc. He was inspired rather by love of his ideal country than by hatred of anything else. There is no link between his passionate feeling for justice and the parrot-calls of panics and propagandists, or the sinister cruelty of the ideologues of to-day.
Peguy was essentially a creative writer. He never advocated a detailed political programme. He was a kind of midwife of honesty in French life. and his comments (within their limits) were nearly always shrewd and to the point. His honesty and complete independence made his more or less an isolated voice. Yet if our (perhaps insoluble) problem is how to bridge the gulf between the Western tradition and the realities of the revolutionary and technical world of the 20th century, Peguy's pithy contribution ought not to be neglected.
Some of his difficulties were personal ones and only concerned the man Peguy. But others are of general bearing and instruction. He had trouble with the Socialist party owing to his independence and his metaphysical depth and his religious feeling. He was isolated from the " clerical party " not least by his generosity and love of the dispossessed. But it is absurd to think of Peguy in a party. He had nothing to say to political managers and lobbiers, but the bigness of his creativeness enabled him to sec points which they could not see. Much of this you will learn if you read Daniel Halevy's book.