Barrès Maurice - The undying spirit of France

Author : Barrès Maurice
Title : The undying spirit of France
Year : 1917

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Foreword. M. Maurice Barres is a man of such varied interest that he might well be studied from more than one point of view. I shall concentrate my attention, however, particularly to that side of his character shown in his activities as a writer, with a brief glance at those as politician and patriot. As a writer M. Barres stands unquestionably in the front rank of living French authors. His ability for marshalling facts is unexcelled, while his style of expression has seldom been equalled. At times his ideas may not coincide with ours, but we can never fail to recognize the skill and charm with which they are presented. The following pages seem to me to reflect, even in translation, his choice diction and the masterly arrangement of his material. Indeed his gifts of style have been considered remarkable by the best critics of France. M. Paul Desjardins spoke of him in the late twenties as "that youth endowed with remarkable diction," M. Charles Maurras writes of "the music of Barres's prose," while M. Henri Bremond, in what is to me the finest critical study of Barres written up to ten years ago, the preface to "Vingt-cinq Annees de Vie Litteraire," devotes a section to "Barres's rhythm." M. Anatole France, reviewing one of M. Barres's books, says: "His language is supple and at the same time precise; it has wonderful resources." It is interesting to note what Barres himself says on the same subject. "The art of writing must satisfy these two requirements it must be musical and meet the demand for mathematical precision, which exists among the French in every well-regulated soul." As a British journalist and author, the Hon. Maurice Baring, points out, M. Barres's "early books are written in an elaborate style and are often obscure." As he advanced in life and experience, however, his style became less involved and the obscurity disappeared completely, as the readers of the following pages can confirm. In this respect he reverses the course of one of his admirers, Henry James, who began his literary career with a clear style and clear thought and ended with both bathed in ambiguity. Hero-worship also stands out prominently in M. Maurice Barres's writings. To him all "exceptional men" are heroes. He is very catholic in his choice of them, numbering in his earlier books those as varied as Napoleon, Renan and Taine. Later Boulanger and Deroulede became his chief worthies. With the coming of the war M. Barres attains the climax of his reverence for exceptional men, for it is at the shrine of the martyr soldier boys of France that he worships, as we shall see in the pages that follow. Here, as in the matter of style, his taste mellows with age. ...

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