Maurice Barrès
A French Belloc
by
Arthur Machen
T. P.’s and Cassell’s Weekly (1923)

Maurice Barrès, the great Frenchman who lately died at the age of 61, made two reputations. The first was made over thirty years ago; the second was made in the war. One might compare him with Mr. Belloc. Before the war Mr. Belloc was hailed as a great writer of prose and verse, though not a “best seller.” Then came the war, and he made an entirely new reputation as optimistic military writer whose patriotism refused to consider the possibility of defeat. Thus Belloc was read by a vast new public.

So with Barrès, whose position in the scale of contemporary French writers is very much what Mr. Belloc’s is in England. Like the latter, he made his name as a champion of the individual. He wrote for “high-brow” reviews, he dabbled in independent journalism, and founded a paper of his own called Ink-spots. Then he burst forth into a brand of fiction of his own in a trilogy of books: “Sous l’Œil des Barbares,” “L’Homme Libre,” and “Le Jardin de Bérénice.”

Ink-spots”

His Ink-spots (“Taches d’Encre”) did not notably resemble Mr. Belloc’s “Eye-witness,” and his trilogy was very different from those marvellous political satires, “Mr. Burden,” “Mr. Clutterbuck’s Election,” and “A Change in the Cabinet,” wherein the true flower of Bellocian genius flowered. But both men were supremely concerned for the freedom of the individual. The difference was that Belloc’s cult of the ego was in the political field. Barrès’s in the personal field.

Politics and Patriotism

Both men essayed politics and entered Parliament, and both alike were shocked by its bargains and compromises, and its crude kaleidoscope of shifting principles. The Anglo-Frenchman has abandoned the House of Commons, but Barrès remained a deputy. To both these Catholic individualists Germany, which represented the triumph of the idea of the secular State mitigated only by some Protestant dilution of Deism, was utterly abhorrent. As war drew nearer their patriotism was intensified.

France’s Nationalist Leader

But above all things Barrès was Lorrainer. The sorrow of the conquered province was in his soul. The war stirred him to his depths. He stepped forth and called to his countrymen. Eight years earlier they had made him Academician, but that was paper fame. Now he spoke to their blood. Every morning in the Echo de Paris he blew a great bugle blast. All France read him. Amid the clash of arms it was an amazing triumph for a man of letters.

The author of “Colette Baudoche” had earned the position, but France has no longer a French population anywhere subjected to Germany, and it is possible that he will have no real successor.A. M.


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One thought on “Machen on the French Belloc

  1. Thank you for this – very interesting! I wonder how Barrès seems familiar, when I do not know that I have read anything of his or know much about him? How good was Machen’s French – would he have read much of him in the original? I see there is a 1918 English translation of the 1909 novel Machen notes, Colette Baudoche: The Story of a Young Girl of Metz by Frances Wilson Huard. Fascinating-looking is Malcolm Cowley’s 1929 translation of Barrès 1913 historical novel, La colline inspirée, as The Sacred Hill (which Cowley calls “Undoubtedly […] the best of his twelve novels”!). (Both are scanned in the Internet Archive.) Intriguing-looking, too, is The Faith of France: Studies in Spiritual Differences & Unity, Elisabeth Marbury’s 1918 translation of Les Diverses Familles spirituelles de la France (1917). (All three are scanned in the Internet Archive.)

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