Translated: for marxists.org by Mitch Abidor
Jules Renard was one of France’s most successful writers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Best known today as the author of the autobiographical novel Poil de Carotte, he also kept a fascinating journal over the period. Through Léon Blum he became acquainted with Jean Jaurès, and Renard came to write for Jaurès’ paper, L'Humanité: in fact, an article by him appeared in the first issue of the newspaper. He wrote several journal entries on his encounters with the Socialist leader.
January 31, 1901 — Over the last period, the Chamber has only had two orators, Léon Blum said: Jaurès and Clemenceau. Jaurès is guileless. In prose he is the equal of Victor Hugo. He begged Millerand not to become a minister, but once he had done so he supported him. He is disinterested. The only thing that makes him suffer is the lack of intelligence of certain socialists. When a detail of one of his speeches was criticized he answered: “Do you think I remember what I said?”
December 11, 1901 — Lunch at Blum’s. Jaurès looks like a high school teacher who didn’t get his degree and doesn’t get enough exercise; or an overweight merchant who eats well.
Medium height, square of build. An ordinary face; neither ugly nor beautiful, neither rare nor common. Hairy and with a beard. A nervous twitching of the right eyelid. Collar straight and a knotted tie.
A very cultivated intelligence. He doesn’t even let me finish the few quotations I start. At every moment he brings in history or cosmogony. A complete and astonishing orator’s memory.
Spits into his handkerchief.
I don’t get the feeling from him of a strong personality. Rather he makes me think of someone about whom a report would read: “Good health in all regards.”
He laughed too much at one of his jokes, a laugh that descended the stairs and didn’t stop until it reached the ground.
The accent: a strange disdain for the “c” in “avec.” He speaks slowly, a little hesitantly, without nuances.
Obviously, one must see the actor within this orator. And anyway, I live by the thoughts of people who are too great for this one to amaze me.
“Making a speech or writing an article; for me it’s more or less the same thing,” he said.
I asked him if he preferred the precision of a phrase or the poetic beauty of an image.
“Precision,” he answered.
The man who most struck him as an orator is Freycinet.
It’s easier for him to speak at a public meeting than to present at a conference. He was most ill at ease in court, where he defended Gérault-Richard.
In religion he seems to be quite timid. He is embarrassed when we bring up the question. He gets around it by saying; “I assure you that it’s more complicated than you think.” He seems to think it’s a necessary evil, and that we should leave it alone a bit. He believes that dogma is dead, and that the sign, the form, the ceremony, are in no danger.
According to Léon Blum, he differs from Guesde as a tactician. A government-style Socialist, he believes in partial reforms. Guesde only accepts total revolution.
December 22,1902 — Jaurès. The air of a friendly bear. A short neck, just big enough to put on the little tie of a country junior high school student. Many 45 year old fathers resemble him, you know, the kind whose oldest daughters tell them; “Button up your jacket papa. Papa, really, could you please put up your suspenders.”
He arrives in a derby and with his coat collar turned up. An affectation of simplicity, the simplicity of a citizen who begins his speech by saying; “Citizens,” but who sometimes forgets himself in the heat of the speech and says: “Messieurs.”
Short gestures — Jaurès doesn’t have long arms — but they are useful. The finger often raised, pointing to the ideal. The fists full of ideas sometimes strike, the entire arm pushes things away, or describes the parabola of a broom. Jaurès sometimes walks with a hand in his pocket, takes out a handkerchief and wipes his lips.
(I only heard him once, so this is only a note.)
The beginning is slow, the words separated by wide spaces. We are afraid: is that all there is? Suddenly an inflated and resounding wave, which threatens us before gently breaking. There are ten waves of this size. It is the most beautiful. It is very beautiful.
It isn’t a tirade of five stanzas like that of a great actor. The difference is that we're not sure that Jaurès knows his lines, and we're afraid that the last one won’t come. The word “suspended” has all its force when it concerns him. We really are suspended, fearing a fall where Jaurès will ... hurt us.
Between these large waves, there are preparations, neutral zones where the public rests, where neighbors can look at each other, when a monsieur can remember an appointment and can leave.
He speaks two hours and drinks a drop of water.
Sometimes — rarely — he misses a period, stops short, and the applause stops abruptly, like that of a claque.
He cited the great name of Bossuet, and I suspect him of always finding , whatever the subject, a reason to cite this great name.
What he says doesn’t always interest me. He says beautiful things, and he’s right to say them; but perhaps I already know them, or I'm not sufficiently “common folk.” But suddenly there’s a beautiful phrase like this one:
“When we state our doctrine the objection is that it’s not practical; they no longer say that it isn’t just.”
“The proletarian will not forget humanity, for the proletarian carries it in himself. He possesses nothing but his title as man with him and in him. The title of man will triumph.”
A voice that reaches the last ears, but that remains agreeable; a clear voice, very wide-ranging, a little sharp, a voice not of thunder, but of the firing of a salvo....
A large and indisputable idea sustains him; it’s as if it’s the spinal cord of his speech. For example: the progress of justice is not the result of blind forces, but of a conscious effort, of an ever higher idea, towards an ever more elevated ideal.
December 1,1904 — ...
“I need something hot to drink. Would you like to accompany me?”
He stops in front of a café and, with his accent; “Is it at least an appropriate café?”
I look and read: Café Napolitain.
“Oh, very appropriate.”
“Would you like a beer?” Jaurès asks.
“No, I'll have an American grog.”
“Hot water with rum.”
“Is it good?”
“It will quench your thirst better than something cold.”
He pours water in his and asks for a straw.
He’s wearing a little tie that the poet Ponge could wear, and a small collar; soft as if he'd been dancing until 6:00 am; it’s a collar soaked with parliamentary sweat. His face is a little like a parliamentary tomato.
The theatres are letting out, Lambert fils, Bernstein and Sacha (Guitry) enter and shake my hand. Jaurès must think that I know everyone and spend my nights in cafes.
He confirms that when he speaks he stares at , he tries to address, one person.
“It’s interesting,” he says, “that action on the crowd.”
I relate the portrait that I did of him.
“Yes,” he says, “I hadn’t noticed, but that’s it.”
He recognizes that he drops his phrases for fear that the crowd will applaud too soon.
People look at us. They know Jaurès. Do they mistrust him?
He pays and takes from his pocket tokens of various sizes mixed in with coins. He leaves ten sous as a tip, like a generous visitor from the countryside ...
Outside he says:
“Paris is admirable.”
February 28, 1908 — ...It’s enough to make you cry, to see this man. Always the same jacket of a doubtful cleanliness, the same tie and the same collar, shoes as soft as slippers. He lives all alone, answers the door himself, and can’t even eat at home.
He remains indifferent to the varied collection that is his enemies, because they say things that are so foolish! And anyway, he says, the facts are there. He has to leave at 2:00 to continue his speech. He doesn’t seem to be thinking about it, but he has to walk to get to the Chamber — where there’s no air — in the rain, and doubtless without an umbrella.