Friday, July 14, 2017

Birth of Pierre Quillard (July 14, 1864)

Pierre Quillard was a French poet and translator, but he is equally known for his political engagement, especially to the Armenian Cause.

He was born in Paris on July 14, 1864. He studied at the Lyceum Fontanes, where he had a host of distinguished fellow students, including poet René Ghil (1863-1925). He pursued higher education at the School of Letters at the Sorbonne. He graduated in 1885 and then followed graduate studies at École Pratique des Hautes Études and the École des Chartes.

He founded the literary journal La Pléiade in 1884 with two friends. A follower of symbolist poetry, in 1890 he published his first collection, La gloire du verbe (The Glory of the Word). He would reprint the book, including new poems, in 1897, with the title La Lyre héroïque et dolente (The Heroic and Grieving Lyre). Quillard followed the fashionable current of symbolism. Among other publications, from 1891 until his death he would be a contributor to the famous literary magazine Mercure de France.

After his academic studies, the poet had fallen in love with Hellenism. In 1888 he started publishing studies on Greek classical literature, followed by several translations of Sophocles, Iamblichus, and other authors in the 1890s. Some of them were performed in theater.

A turning point in his life was his departure to Constantinople in 1893 to become a teacher at the Armenian catholic lyceum St. Gregory the Illuminator. (Another poet, Taniel Varoujan, would become its principal two decades later, until the fatidic date of April 24, 1915.) He remained in his position until 1896, witnessing the oppression of Abdul Hamid’s regime. In 1897 he followed the Turkish-Greek war as a correspondent for L’Illustration. Upon his returned to France in the same year, he took over the defense of the Armenians and of other oppressed peoples. Together with poet Arshag Tchobanian, he compiled a series of testimonies on the Hamidian massacres of 1894-1896, which he published in a voluminous book in 1897. He also organized many gatherings about the situation in Western Armenia.

Quillard was also engaged in the political scandal known as the Dreyfus Affair and took the defense of Alfred Dreyfus, the French soldier of Jewish origin unjustly condemned for treason. He adhered to the League of Human Rights since its foundation in 1898.

His political engagement led him to almost leave literature aside. In October 1900 he became the editor in chief of the bimonthly Pro Armenia, published by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, to promote the Armenian Cause. The editorial board was composed of famous names in the pro-Armenian movement of France, such as Jean Jaures, Anatole France, Georges Clemanceau, and Francis de Pressensé. After  following the Ottoman Revolution (1908), Pro-Armenia resumed publication in 1912, first with the name of Pour les peoples d’Orient, and then again as Pro Armenia (1913-1914). Quillard returned to the Ottoman Empire in 1904 as correspondent for L’Illustration. In 1904 he became member of the central committee of the League of Human Rights, and in 1907 was elected vice-president. He would rise to the position of general secretary in 1911. 

On February 4, 1912, at the age of 47, Pierre Quillard passed away from a massive heart attack in Neuilly-sur-Seine. He was buried in the cemetery of Père-Lachaise, in Paris, and eight young Armenians carried his coffin on their shoulders to its final destination. A telegram sent by the A.R.F. to the editorial offices of Mercure de France stated:

“We are stricken by the unexpected loss of Pierre Quillard, brave director of Pro Armenia, defender of oppressed people. We send our condolences to the members and contributors of Pro Armenia, Pressensé, Anatole France, Clemanceau, Jaur Jaurès, Bérard, Roberty, d'Estournelles, Cochin, all those who have supported our case in the great days of misfortune. His beloved memory will live among us in the relevant work for the fraternization of the races of the Orient.”