Page 8, 25th June 1965

25th June 1965
Page 8
Page 8, 25th June 1965 — Peguy, poet and patriot CHARLES PEGUY, who MS killed during

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Organisations: Ecole Normale Superieure
Locations: Chartres, Paris


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Peguy, poet and patriot CHARLES PEGUY, who MS killed during

the Battle of the Marne, was an intense patriot, socialist and Catholic: but outside France he still remains little more than a name. Yet a French stamp was recently issued in his honour, and every June a number of his fellow countrymen make the 73-kilometre pilgrimage from Paris to Chartres on foot—a pilgrimage that he first made in 1912 in thanksgiving for his son's recovery from typhoid.

A biography, the fullest so far published in England, has just appeared, and is reviewed this week by RIVERS SCOTT.

CHARLES PEGUY, pub heist, poet and patriot, was the sort of Frenchman by whom the English are most surprised. He was also the sort that they find it most difficult to take.

Frenchmen are supposed to be light, witty and elegant. Peguy was anguished, emphatic and solemn to the point where the great Corneille, whom he so much admired, appears in comparison. like a 17th century fair-ground turn.

Couple ClaudePs verbosity with Rousseau's monomania and you get some idea of what Peguy has seemed like, at less than his fiery best. to many non-admirers — and not only English ones. "When he had said it all", sighed the literary historian Gustave Lanson, "he said it all over again."

Lanson also had a point when he remarked that for Peguy the world was divided into two parts, the good and the bad—the good part consisting of those siatto were in agreement with whatever Poguy happened at that moment to believe.

Marjorie Villiers, in Charles Peguy (Collins. 42s.). her wellresearched and moving biography, cuts the caricature and makes plain to the English reader the greatness and nobility that underlay the surface defects. "Twenty years of froth and mess" was how Peguy himself described the adult half of his life when, for him as for so many other tragically doomed men. the first World War had arrived to make all things simple at last.

Hitherto. in his world, everything had been at cross-purposes. Brought up in grinding poverty by his grandfnother and widowed mother. he won his way through to the Ecole Normale Superieure, seedingground of France's top teachers and civil servants. then threw away his chances in that highly competitive establishment by an early marriage and an examination failure.

A vehement socialist, he attacked the heroes of his own side. Jean Jaures especially, for their compromises and false materialism. Ostensibly an atheist. he suffered a passionate "reconversion" which enraged his no less passionately antiChristian wife and in-laws, and shattered his domestic peace.

A champion of the rights and integrity of every creature, he worked too hard to have time to instruct his children, who sided with their mother in the family quarrels to such a degree that one of them. when asked what was his surname, replied that it was Baudouin, his mother's name before marriage.

These troubles, and his scrupulous and complicated temperament, kept him, for "all his love of Our Lady and the saints", away from Mass and the sacraments for almost the whole of his "Catholic" life.

Mrs. Villiers takes us through the ins and outs of the Dreyfus case, and its formative effect on the whole of Peguy's career and thought. She outlines the contents andlfortunes of some of the Cahier, de la Ottinzaine, the periodical tracts (there were 229 of them in all) on the major political and religious issues of the day which are her subject's monument outside his poetry.

Peguy died advancing against a hail of enemy bullets as stubbornly and courageously as he had advanced throughout his life, and the place where he fell, as Mrs. Villiers does not fail to point out, was within sight of four church towers and on the edge ot the Beauce, the flat wheat-bearing country with Chartres cathedral in its midst which was the subject of his most famous poem.

Prorn then on, this strikingly ecumenical and modern figure began to come into his owit

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