Jeanne d’Arc, 1897 (as Marcel and Pierre Baudouin)
La Chanson du roi Dagobert, 1903
Le Mystère de la charité de Jeanne d’Arc, 1910 (The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc, 1950)
Le Porche du mystère de la deuxième vertu, 1911 (The Portico of the Mystery of the Second Virtue, 1970)
“Châteaux de Loire,” 1912 (“Chateaux of the Loire”)
Le Mystère des saints innocents, 1912 (The Mystery of the Holy Innocents, and Other Poems, 1956)
La Tapisserie de sainte Geneviève et de Jeanne d’Arc, 1912
“Les Sept contre Thèbes,” 1912 (“Seven Against Thebes”)
Sainte Geneviève, patronne de Paris, 1913
“Les Sept contre Paris,” 1913 (“Seven Against Paris”)
La Tapisserie de Notre-Dame, 1913
Œuvres poétiques complètes, 1941
God Speaks: Religious Poetry, 1945
Notre Jeunesse, 1910
Œuvres complètes, 1917-1955 (20 volumes)
Basic Verities: Prose and Poetry, 1943
Men and Saints: Prose and Poetry, 1944
Les Œuvres posthumes de Charles Péguy, 1969
Charles-Pierre Péguy (pay-gee) was born at Orléans in the Faubourg Bourgogne on January 7, 1873, the only son of a poor working woman who was to lose her husband within a few months. Péguy was always proud to be a member of a hardworking family, and he regarded France’s peasants and workmen as its greatest strength. This pride and the strength of his mother, combined with growing up in the part of France where Joan of Arc had lived four centuries earlier, strongly influenced his work, as Joan became the subject of a large portion of his writings. He grew up under the care of his mother and grandmother, attending local schools. He was able to attend the lycée at Orléans in 1885 because of a scholarship and because of the new system of public education, which he was later to extol. Higher education even became possible; thus, after a year of military service, he attended both the Lycée Lakanal at Sceaux in 1891 and the École Normale Supérieure in 1894, which was eventually to deny him the agrégation. For this, as well as for its adherence to the values of the modern world, Péguy was to immortalize the school as “l’école dite normale, autrefois supérieure” (called normal, formerly superior). Around 1895, he became attracted to socialism, not in the Marxist sense but rather in the idealistic tradition of the early nineteenth century–the tradition of Pierre Proudhon and Pierre Leroux, as Jacques Viard has demonstrated. Péguy founded a Socialist group and at the turn of the century actively supported Dreyfus for idealistic reasons, “so that France will not be in the state of mortal sin.” Yet when, in Péguy’s view, other Socialist leaders began to use Dreyfus for their own ends, when what he originally envisioned as “mystique” degenerated into “politique,” Péguy went his own way. In 1900, he founded his Cahiers de la quinzaine, “pour dire bêtement la vérité bête . . .” (to tell the stark truth starkly).
Several years earlier, in 1896, Péguy’s best friend, Marcel Baudouin, had died, yet Péguy kept his memory alive. Indeed, Péguy’s first poetic work, Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc), a long drama in blank verse, was published by “Georges Bellais” (a pseudonym for Péguy) under the names “Marcel and Pierre Baudouin” (also pseudonyms for Péguy) in 1897. All of his subsequent works (with the exception of two posthumously published works) were first published by Péguy himself in the Cahiers de la quinzaine (1900-1914). He married Marcel’s sister, Charlotte-François, in 1897. They had four children and were to remain faithful to each other, though not always happy. Péguy’s main work, his Cahiers de la quinzaine, was by no means lucrative, for he had the talent of antagonizing his subscribers by the uncompromising honesty of many of the articles he printed. These were nevertheless of the highest literary quality, written by such authors as Romain Rolland, Anatole France, and Jean Jaurés.
In 1908, Péguy surprised his friend Joseph Lotte by declaring, “J’ai retrouvé la foi” (I have returned to the faith). Perhaps, however, because of Péguy’s civil marriage and his wife’s anti-Catholic convictions, he did not practice his religion or have his children baptized. The whole tenor of his work, however, changed at this time, becoming more reflective, often mystical. His best prose works, such as Clio, Notre Jeunesse (our youth), and L’Argent (money), and most of his poetry date from his conversion. In 1912-1913, he made several pilgrimages to Chartres for the cure of his sick child Marcel, immortalizing the experience in his poem “Présentation de la Beauce à Notre-Dame de Chartres.” Indeed, the Chartres pilgrimage has been reestablished in France as a result of Péguy’s inspiration.
Péguy’s last years were troubled by spiritual and emotional uncertainties. He derived particular help and consolation from his friendship with Henri Bergson, whose lectures at the Collège de France Péguy attended faithfully. At the outbreak of World War I in August, 1914, Péguy–then forty-one years old–immediately enlisted as a lieutenant in the infantry. Killed near Villeroy on September 5, 1914, by a bullet in the forehead, Péguy became the model of those heroic soldiers who died for their country. Ironically, during World War II, a bullet was to strike the forehead of the bust erected in front of his birthplace, 48 rue Bourgogne.