Péguy, Charles Pierre
PÉGUY, CHARLES PIERRE
French poet and essayist; b. Orléans, Aug. 7, 1873;d. Battle of the Marne, Sept. 5, 1914. He was of a peasant family and was raised by his mother, his father having died when Charles was a year old. He was educated at the lycée in Orléans, the lycée La Kanel, and, after military service, the École Normale (1894). He became a bookseller and later director of La revue de la quinzaine, in whose pages he showed himself to be a socialist, but opposed to the "Socialists," and an intellectual opposed to the "Intellectual party." In 1900 he founded Cahiers de la quinzaine, which introduced many young writers—and much of his own work—to the public. Jeanne d' Arc (1897; in the form of a medieval mystery play, 1910) strikes the note of exalted patriotism that was to mark all his work. This is evident also in Notre patrie (1905) and Notre jeunesse, his vigorous defense of Alfred Dreyfus. Clio (1909) sets forth a theological concept of history, and L'argent exalts French culture. His later Mystéres and Tapisseries give witness to his "conversion" and reveal a new poetic inspiration. He had early come under the influence of bergson, to whom he paid homage in Note sur M. Bergson (1914). He deliberately lived a poor life and, though devoutly Catholic, was somewhat unique in his manifestations of his faith.
Restless and full of pent-up violence, Péguy recalls bloy and bernanos. The evil of the time, he conceived, rested in a disembodied intellectualism that belonged to a world of fantasy. Liberty is not derived from a philosophy or a political regime, but from daily struggle at the price of rigid discipline and constant effort. Love of liberty demands the help of the mystic. In some epochs of history the mystic controls human actions and, sustaining their impetus, gives them a direction consistent with honor; in other periods the mystic is consumed by politics—liberty of mind and heart are replaced by an unfeeling, rigid dogmatism. Persons on the scene, Péguy thought, are incapable of illuminating true history, which is what man knows "by the Gospels of these fishermen, boatsmen, and tax-collectors who actually encountered Christ." The people alone are able to bear witness, for they alone are "charged with the memory that preserves the essential against the alterations of time." The Cahiers foretold the "city harmonious" in which the theoreticians would give way to people of enthusiasm and faith.
Above all else, Péguy mistrusted the atheism of a progress that masqueraded under the aegis of science, as in renan and Jean Jaures. His goal was to foster a salvation that would join the spiritual with the temporal, intellectual, and vocational. In Jeanne d'Arc he proclaims the Christian dogmas of the reality of the Incarnation and Redemption. In some of his poems he portrays God speaking almost in the accents of a French peasant, in an effort to make real His loving providence. At one and the same time a chronicler of the Middle Ages and an illuminator and prodigious producer of words and ideas, Péguy created a language suitable for the poetic presentation of the irresistible march of Christianity since the paradise of Adam. This is the theme of Eve (1913).
Bibliography: Oeuvres complétes, 15 v. (Paris 1917–34); Oeuvres poétiques complétes, introd. f. porchÉ (Paris 1962). Cahiers de la quinzaine, ed. c. p. pÉguy, 229 v. (Paris 1900–14). j. roussel, Péguy (Paris 1963). a. rousseaux, Le prophète Péguy, 2 v. (Paris 1942–46). r. rolland, Péguy, 2 v. (Paris 1945). h. daniel-rops, Péguy (rev. ed. Paris 1935). a. suarÈs, Péguy (Paris 1915). d. o'donnell, Maria Cross: Imaginative Patterns in a Group of Catholic Writers (New York 1952), c. moeller, Littérature du XX e siècle et christianisme, 4 v. (Tournai 1953–60).