A Commentary (Apr 1934)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

80 ] A Commentary The Criterion: A Literary Review, 13 (Apr 1934) 451-54 I have been reading (it is not a new book, for it was published in 1931) the Évocations: Souvenirs 1905-1911 of our friend Henri Massis.1 The book should be, for anybody, an interesting and valuable document upon a period; but [it] has a more personal interest for me, inasmuch as M. Massis is my contemporary, and the period of which he writes includes the time of my own brief residence in Paris. I remember the appearance of M. Massis’s first conspicuous piece of writing; though I was ignorant at the time, as were most people, that the “Agathon” who attacked the New Sorbonne was a name covering the joint authorship of Henri Massis and Alfred de Tarde.2 At the beginning of his reminiscences Massis quotes from Péguy: “Je vais fonder un parti, le parti des hommes de quarante ans. Vous en serez aussi, mon garçon. Un jour, vous serez mûr” [1].3 I wonder whether we should make that prediction, with equal assurance, to our juniors to-day. Younger generations can hardly realize the intellectual desert of England andAmericaduringthefirstdecadeandmoreofthiscentury.IntheEnglish desert, to be sure, flourished a few tall and handsome cactuses, as well as James and Conrad (for whom the climate, in contrast to their own, was relatively favourable); in America the desert extended, à perte de vue, without the least prospect of even desert vegetables. The predominance of Paris was incontestable. Poetry, it is true, was somewhat in eclipse; but there wasamostexcitingvarietyofideas.AnatoleFranceandRemydeGourmont still exhibited their learning, and provided types of scepticism for younger men to be attracted by and to repudiate; Barrès was at the height of his influence, and of his rather transient reputation. Péguy, more or less Bergsonian and Catholic and Socialist, had just become important, and the young were further distracted by Gide and Claudel. Vildrac, Romains, Duhamel, experimented with verse which seemed hopeful, though it was always, I think, disappointing; something was expected of Henri Franck, the early deceased author of La Danse devant l’arche.4 At the Sorbonne, Faguetwasanauthoritytobeattackedviolently;thesociologists,Durkheim, Lévy-Bruhl, held new doctrines; Janet was the great psychologist; at the Collège de France, Loisy enjoyed his somewhat scandalous distinction; [ 81 A Commentary (Apr) and over all swung the spider-like figure of Bergson. His metaphysic was said to throw some light upon the new ways of painting, and discussion of Bergson was apt to be involved with discussion of Matisse and Picasso.5 I am willing to admit that my own retrospect is touched by a sentimental sunset, the memory of a friend coming across the Luxembourg Gardens in the late afternoon, waving a branch of lilac, a friend who was later (so far as I could find out) to be mixed with the mud of Gallipoli.6 And I know that like all other periods, this period does boil down. Nevertheless, it seems to me that it did provide for the young such experiences as justified Péguy’s prediction, “un jour, vous serez mûr.” To-day, such words seem to read like a counsel of perfection. Our occupation with immediate social, political and economic issues to-day is a necessity, but a regrettable one; for it tends to abbreviate and confuse that period of adolescence in which a man is acquiring understanding by submitting himself, in a leisurely way, to one intellectual influence after another. I know that for some natures the diversity of influences of Paris in those days − a real diversity, not merely a division into political groups − was too strong: the gentle Jacques Rivière fell a victim to the opposing forces of Gide and Claudel, and never could make up his mind. Péguy had the ability to combine a variety of doctrines by a force of imagination which sometimes concealed and usually atoned for incoherence. Some, like Ernest Psichari, seem too facile a result of some such formula as: Charles de Foucauld plus Rudyard Kipling.7 But an atmosphere of diverse opinions seems to me on the whole favourable to the maturing of the individual; because when he does come to a conviction, he does so not by “taking a ticket,” but by making up his own mind. There is something to be said, in these days, for individualism. I do not mean what ordinarily passes by that name, simply a party of folk huddling together to be...


pdf