Charles Péguy

1873 - 1914
Charles Péguy - Painting of Pierre Laurens. Photo Harlingue-Viollet

Heureux ceux qui sont morts pour la terre charnelle,

Mais pourvu que ce soit pour une juste guerre.

Heureux ceux qui sont morts pour quatre coins de terre.

Heureux ceux qui sont morts d'une mort solennelle »

Charles PEGUY, Prière pour nous autres charnels

 

Charles Péguy is born on January 7th 1873 in Orléans in the bosom of family of modest conditions. His father, who was a carpenter dies the same year of his birth and he is raised by his mother, who works as a upholsterer. Very good pupil, Charles Péguy, will benefit of an university grant, which will give him the chance to do brilliant studies after the elementary school. After having accomplished his military service in the 131st I.R. in 1892 he enters the University preparing him for senior posts in teaching, where he will be taught of prestigious professors as the medievalist Joseph Bédier, the writer Romain Rolland or the philosopher Henri Bergson, this last professor will have a great influence on his intellectual maturity. In 1896 he will get his bachelor degree in arts. After failing the competitive examination in philosophy for the posts in the teaching, he will leave the institution in 1897. He will give up any religious practice and commit himself in the conviction of the dreyfusic cause, after having met Bernard Lazare. In 1897, Peguy collaborates for the "Revue Blanche" and completes his fist work, "Jeanne d'Arc" in June. The next year he will write "Marcel, premier dialogue de la cité harmonieuse."

In 1898 Charles Péguy will marry with Charlotte Baudouin, sister of his best friend, who died little time before. The couple lives in 7, rue de l'Estrapade in Paris and will have four children : Marcel in 1898, Germaine in 1901, Pierre in 1903 and Charles-Pierre in 1915. Marcel Baudouin oriented him towards socialistic ideals. Vharles Péguy will be involved in political actions, at the side of Jean Jaurès, Lucien Herr and Charles Andler. Furthermore he collaborates in the creation of the "Revue Socialiste" (Socialistic Revue). With George Bellais he will also invest in a bookshop, which will quickly become a meeting point of the resistance to the Marxian socialism, preached by Jules Guesde and Jean Jaurès will try to influence the parliamentary left. In January 1900, Charles Péguy founds the "Cahier de la Quinzaine" an independent publishing house, which publishes every month it's own literary review. Installed in 8, rue de la Sorbonne he will personally take the leadership. It will publish 229 parts between the January 5th and July 1914, which will give Péguy the chance to publish his works,as well as those of his friends such as André Suarès, Anatole France, Georges Sorel or Julien Benda. Péguy also writes topical essays about the separation between the church and the government, the crises of the teaching sector.

In 1905, the incident of Tanger reveals to him the German threat and the "universal evil". Péguy will protest against pacifism and internationalism of the left. Thus in October he will publish "Notre Patrie" (Our Fatherland), a polemic and patriotic work. During the following years the writer also denounces the scientism of the "intellectual party", in other words he criticises his former university professors. In 1908 he will come back to his religious convictions. He will confide this to his friend Joseph Lotte. From 1912 to 1914 Charles Péguy will leave for several pilgrimages in Notre-Dame de Chartres. The writer at present castigates the official socialism, to which he blames its demagogy and its anticlerical sectarianism, after the separation of the church from the government. The writer will write mystical, philosophic essays such as "Clio, Dialogue de l'Histoire et de l'Âme païenne" , published between 1909 and 1912, or "Victor-Marie, comte Hugo" in 1910. His personal and timeless style is expressed in various oratorical poems of insistent rhythms : "Le Mystère de la charité de Jeanne d'Arc", in 1910 ; "Le Porche du Mystère de la deuxième Vertu", one year after; "Le Mystère des et La Tapisserie de sainte Geneviève et de Jeanne d'Arc" in 1912 ; "La Tapisserie de Notre-Dame", en 1913. In his last works Péguy re-discusses the the confrontation between mysticism and politics and the interior life of the citizens, of whom he already talked at the beginning of his work. Finally with "Eve", written in 1913, this vast symphonic poem of some 3000 quatrains, the patriotic writer again celebrates the dead of "the carnal world", the world of the ancestors.

 

On August 2nd 1914, the general mobilization, forces Péguy to interrupt his essay about M. Descartes et the Cartesian philosophy, a speech for the defence ofBergson. On August 4th he takes the command of the reservists unit in Colommiers and reaches Lorraine. After a short campaign in Metz his 276th I.R. moves backwards to Aisne, where the French army retreats. On September 5th 1914 in Villeroy, close to Meaux, at the time of the Marne battle, General Péguy's unit will be confronted with the enemy, who is trying to reach Paris. Here the officer will be shoot in the middle of his forehead. His body is buried among his other companions in the cemetery of Chaucoin-Neufmontiers.

 

Heureux les grands vainqueurs.

Paix aux hommes de guerre.

 

Qu'ils soient ensevelis dans un dernier silence.

Que Dieu mette avec eux la juste balance

Un peu de ce terreau d'ordure et de poussière.

 

Que Dieu mette avec eux dans le juste plateau

Ce qu'ils ont tant aimé, quelques grammes de terre.

Un peu de cette vigne, un peu de ce coteau,

Un peu de ce ravin sauvage et solitaire.

 

Mère voici vos fils qui se sont tant battus.

Vous les voyez couchés parmi les nations.

Que Dieu ménage un peu ces êtres débattus,

Ces coeurs pleins de tristesse et d'hésitations.

 

Et voici le gibier traqué dans les battues,

Les aigles abattus et les lièvres levés.

Que Dieu ménage ces coeurs tant éprouvés

Ces torses déviés, ces nuques rebattues.

 

Que Dieu ménage un peu de ces êtres combattus,

Qu'il rappelle sa grâce et sa miséricorde.

Qu'il considère un peu de ce sac et cette corde

Et ces poignets liés et ces reins courbatus.

 

Mère voici vos fils qui se sont tant battus.

Qu'ils ne soient pas pesés comme Dieu pèse un ange.

Que Dieu mette avec eux un peu de cette fange

Qu'ils étaient en principe et sont redevenus."

Extrait de l'œuvre poétique Eve, publiée dans le Quatorzième cahier de la quinzième série, le 28 décembre 1913.

 

  • Photo de la fiche - www.memoiredeshommes.sga.defense.gouv.fr