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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Critical and Biographical Introduction

By Paul Déroulède (1846–1914)

PAUL DÉROULÈDE was born in Paris. He was educated at the lycée of Versailles and the Paris Law School. But from boyhood the poetic instinct was strong in him, and the success of his uncle Émile Augier, the dramatist, aroused his enthusiasm so that he neglected the Codes and began to publish verse under the pen name of Jean Rebel. His first considerable work was ‘Juan Strenner’ (1869), a one-act drama which was not a success.

At the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, Paul Déroulède tried to enlist and was twice rejected. Accepted at last, he soon won his stripes, and was a second lieutenant in the zouaves when he was made prisoner. Undaunted, he immediately began to plan for escape, and after several unsuccessful attempts succeeded. He then joined a regiment of Algerian sharpshooters and gave such an excellent account of himself that he was several times mentioned in dispatches and won the Cross of the Legion of Honor. A wound near the close of the hostilities took him from the field; and it was during the retirement thus enforced that he wrote the lyrics, ‘Songs of the Soldier,’ that first made him famous throughout his native country.

Not since the days of the ‘Marseillaise’ had the fighting spirit of the French people found such sympathetic expression; his songs were read and sung all over the country; they received the highest honor of the Academy, and their popularity continued after peace was declared, nearly one hundred and fifty editions having been exhausted up to 1895. Déroulède now devoted himself to literature and politics. ‘New Songs of the Soldier’ and a volume of ‘Songs of the Peasant,’ almost as popular as the war songs, were interspersed with dramatic works also in verse, ‘L’Hetman’ (1877) and ‘La Moabite’ (1880), which were received on the stage with great favor. A cantata, ‘Vive la France,’ written also in 1880, was set to music by Gounod. Two other dramas, ‘Messire Duguesclin’ (1895) and ‘La Mort de Hoche’ (1897), met with a large measure of success. Déroulède wrote a novel and several works in prose which did not attract special attention.

In 1882 Déroulède had organized the ‘Ligue des Patriotes’ and in 1887 entered politics, joining the party of General Boulanger. Several times deputy, he made himself conspicuous in the Chamber by his eloquence and his violence. In 1899 he tried without success to start a revolution, was arrested, prosecuted, and acquitted. Re-arrested shortly after, he was charged with conspiracy against the state, and banished from France for ten years (January, 1900). Pardoned by the President in 1905, he haughtily declined the favor, and came back only when the Chamber had voted a general amnesty (November 2nd, 1905). He was defeated at the election of 1906, and abandoned active politics, but he was a born leader, and remained to the last the idol of his followers.

Déroulède’s best verses are distinguished for their inspiration and genuine enthusiasm. Careless of form and finish, not always stopping to make sure of his rhymes or perfect his metre, he gave the freest vent to his emotions. Some of the heart-glow which makes the exhilaration of Burns’s poems infectious is found in his songs, but they are generally so entirely French that its scope is limited in a way that the Scotch poet’s, despite his vernacular, was not. The Frenchman’s sympathy is always with the harder side of life. In the ‘Songs of the Soldier’ he plays on chords of steel. These verses resound with the blast of the bugle, the roll of the drum, the flash of the sword, the rattle of musketry, the boom of the cannon; and even in the ‘Songs of the Peasant’ it is the corn and the wine, as the fruit of toil, that appeal to him, rather than the grass and the flowers embellishing the fields.