Thursday, 16 April 2020


Daye's most famous book

Pierre Daye (1892 – 1960) was a Belgian monarchist, a member of the Catholic  branch of the Rexist party, and Commissaire of Sports 1943/4 during the German occupation. He published widely in French and Belgian magazines and wrote a number of books on the history of Belgium and on his travels in Africa and South America. When the Allies freed Belgium in 1944, Daye happened to be in Spain. He did not return and after the war was condemned to death in absentia as a collaborator. His efforts to overturn the judgment were unsuccessful. In 1947 he emigrated to Argentina, where he taught French civilization at the University of La Plata. He died in Buenos Aires in 1960, leaving behind an unpublished memoir of some 1600 typewritten pages.

Here is a translation of his thoughts on writing memoirs:

If a man writes his memoirs, who has never played a leading role in any event of historic significance, it may be proof that he is quite conceited. Inevitably it also means that he lacks discretion. At the very least it means he believes that he can tell some personal anecdotes that deserve attention. In a word, he is rather self-satisfied.

            And yet, if someone has witnessed, voluntarily or involuntarily, the events of a very strange period, and indeed the most interesting events, should he keep silent? A skilled observer, a journalist, moreover and a world traveller for much of my life, I have been involved in some disruptions unwillingly and have encountered people in all walks of life, exalted and lowly. I have a curious mind and am driven by a desire to observe, jot down my impressions, accumulate notebooks, keep a journal, perhaps to lay out confessions, or driven by the pleasure of narrating what Victor Hugo called choses vues, things seen. At one point I realized that I was witnessing a transformative age. I could see humanity pass through a time of extraordinary confusion, from one era to another. The circumstances of my birth put me into the last decade of the 19th century in a class that is now almost extinct – that of the bourgeoisie or rentiers living of investments. I have turned involuntarily, as so many others, into a proletarian. For the fact that I am an intellectual makes me no less a proletarian.  We have come from the era of capitalism and nationalism to that of socialism and perhaps communism.

            On the cusp of two epochs -- one could almost say, two worlds since the transformation of society was so radical -- I was also, physically, on two continents, Europe and South America. Over time, matters that seemed commonplace to me once, became picturesque or rare, and are now typical of what has disappeared. Therefore, I consider myself a witness, one of the masses, but nevertheless a witness of many things that are gone now or are on the point of disappearing, and thus may perhaps be worthy of attention. And I wish to bear testimony to them here.

            A good witness is someone who tells the truth without ulterior motives. I may be faulted for indiscretion or inaccuracy. Since I am making an effort to do justice to the time, I have no scruples perhaps to reveal matters about certain people who are in mid-career. And I hope that people who have turned away from me to take advantage of the circumstances will not find it too grievous to be treated without much delicacy.

            Furthermore, if I am perhaps indiscreet, if I happen to cite letters or bring out memories they would rather forget, I believe I have always been lenient in my judgment. To compose memoirs, to reproduce pages from a journal or out of letters, means pointing out trifling things on the margin of micro- and grand history. There will be no disclosures in these pages, no sensational shaking up, only some details perhaps, and some nuances that might help in rounding off certain portraits. One might reproach me for being foolish in my belief that these details, as well as certain personal notes, could be of interest, if not right now than at least later, when scholars and the curious attempt to understand a society that has now disappeared…

(Pierre Daye, memoirs pp. 21-23, my translation)

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