restricted access Charles Péguy. An unsigned review of Avec Charles Péguy, de la Lorraine à la Marne, par Victor Boudon
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[ 483 Charles Péguy An unsigned review of Avec Charles Péguy, de la Lorraine à la Marne (août-septembre, 1914), par Victor Boudon. Préface de Maurice Barrès. Ouvrage renfermant des lettres inédites du lieut. Ch. Péguy et du capt. Cl. Casimir-Périer Paris: Hachette et Cie, 1916. Pp. xviii + 195.1 The New Statesman, 8 (7 Oct 1916), 19-20 Charles Péguy, the French poet and publicist, was one of the most illustrious of the dead who have fallen in this war. In an article published in these columns some months since, M. Pierre Chavannes explained how great was the hold that this sociable, yet in a manner solitary, Catholic Democrat had over the best youth of France; and we need not describe his career again here.2 But it was not until his death that the full significance of Péguy and his life was realised, that he was seen as a national, a symbolical figure, the incarnation of the rejuvenated French spirit. In this country he was not well known, though a few of the younger writers read and admired him. A literature is now collecting around his legend. André Suarès’ book on Péguy is known.3 It is also known that a German review devoted an issue to Péguy.4 But perhaps there is a special significance in M. Boudon’s book. It is a book of reminiscences of a man who had already, somehow, become a popular personality, important to people who know about him but have no estimate of Péguy as a writer. M. Boudon had at one time been secretary to Francis de Pressensé in the Ligue des Droits de l’Homme.5 But he is not a man of letters. He writes to Barrès: “I knew that Péguy edited the Cahiers de la Quinzaine. I had read a few of their pamphlets, at the time of the Affaire, but nothing since then.” Péguy was merely his officer. “He was my lieutenant. We had hardly exchanged words. And then our acquaintance was so brief; so overwhelmed with fatigue and events! I did indeed promise myself, given the chance, that I would question him and listen to him!”6 His memoir gives merely impressions upon the retina of a private soldier, a retina across which passes, at the end of every few pages, merely a small 1916: Journalism 484 ] dustyfigure,alieutenantwitheye-glasses.M.BarrèsreflectsthatM.Boudon nevertheless knew a Péguy “truer, finer, more eternal than the one with whom we had to do, and his testimony presents us with the Charles Péguy of eternity” [ix].7 Who is this Péguy of eternity? In M. Boudon’s simple account we meet “a small officer in a black cape, with a military bearing, an energetic face, a blond beard, a sly look behind his glasses and a subtle smile.”8 This small officer turns up no more often than a small officer should do, hardly more often than his captain, Captain Guérin.9 He is called le pion by his men,10 is very popular, shows himself very active and efficient: knows how to keep discipline with bonhomie, understands his men, jokes with them; from one ofthem,M.Boudonhimself,hebegsanapple:amodellittleofficer.Towards the end of the book he becomes dustier, but the eyeglasses remain, the activity, the encouragement; the enthusiasm becomes rage; a man of forty years, but ripe, as he had said of Bernard-Lazare, for death at forty years.11 We see him in the retreat. Finally, when a stand is made, when the German troops are folded back towards Neufmontiers and Chaucouin, when the French take the offensive, Péguy appears again, standing up, binoculars in hand, directing the fire of his men. At Villeroy, near Meaux, about 25 kilos. from Paris, he was killed; death was supposed to have been instantaneous– a bullet through the head. This may not give the impression of an unusually interesting book; nor of a figure for eternity; but merely of an officer like another. But the book is more than interesting, it is impressive. It is like the account of the death of a friend, it is the more impressive because it contains no “appreciation” of Jeanne d’Arc (Péguy’s Saint);12 no estimate of Péguy’s social and political influence, of his “contribution,” his originality, his tendency; no reference to any of these things which...