1813 – 1883
Journalist and writer, b. at Boynes, Loiret, 11 Oct., 1813; d. in Paris, 7 April, 1883. He was the son of a poor cooper and at the age of thirteen was obliged to leave the primary schools and earn his living, obtaining a modest position with a Paris attorney, the brother of the then famous poet Casimir Delavigne. The poet’s friends frequented the lawyer’s studio, even the clerics among them being more or less engaged in literary pursuits, and in these surroundings the youthful Veuillot became conscious of his vocation as a writer. He was encouraged by some well-intentioned friends, some of whom gave him advice and lessons. He devoted every free moment, especially at night, to the study of literature and history. At seventeen he was the editor of a newspaper at Rouen, and shortly after of another at Perigueuz. Attention was soon drawn to his talent as manifested in his style and wit and he was called to enter Parisian journalism, where his successes followed one another rapidly. But he was troubled to know what political party he should adopt definitively. Political questions under discussion at that time (reign of Louis-Philippe) did not seem interesting to the young writer, imbued with eagerness and strength. He did not despise religion, but he lacked almost any conception of it, and he complained that he did not know what use to make of his life and his devotion. A friend who had just turned to the practice of religion took him to Rome and there he discovered the splendours of faith. When he returned to Paris he had sworn to devote himself completely to the cause of Catholicism.
In France at that time this cause had very few resolute and active partisans. The Government declared itself favourable to religion, but it also feared to displease the public, still more or less animated by the prejudices and hatreds diffused by Voltaire and the Revolution. Veuillot wrote several works entirely devoted to depicting the beauty of Christian doctrine and life and then he found the journal of which he stood in need, the “Univers”, which had been established some years previously and was still unknown and almost without financial resources. At this juncture friends of Veuillot’s in official positions offered him an enviable post. He had as yet acquired no fortune, being content to gain a livelihood and to assist his family, but he refused all the advantages offered him and became a Catholic journalist, resolved never to be anything else. The chief question then being discussed (1843-50) was liberty of teaching, which was claimed by the Catholics headed by Montalembert. Transformed by the ardour and talent of Veuillot, the “Univers” became the organ of the party and contributed greatly to its ultimate success. But this struggle was long and impassioned. The unbelieving Press and, in general, even that which claimed or imagined itself to be favourable to religion, passionately opposed the Catholic journalist. The widespread prejudices would not suffer Catholics to display daring, talent, or wit. These three qualities Veuillot possessed abundantly, and the use he made of them won him not only much renown and admiration but also inflexible hatred. In 1844 he was sentenced to a month’s imprisonment for having in the “Univers” undertaken the defence of the Abbé Combalot, a preacher whom the Government had just condemned in connection with the controversy concerning the university. Even among Catholics there was a party which always remained hostile to him. After the partial triumph of liberty of instruction (1850), Veuillot found himself in conflict with his former friend Montalembert, with bishops(especially Mgr Dupanloup), and other persons who reproached him with carrying doctrinal intransigentism too far and with defending religion with too great violence, though all he asked for the Church was mere liberty.
Under the Second Empire this double conflict continued. Veuillot combated free-thinking, which assumed a philosophical character, and the liberal world, which sought, then, “to reconcile religion with modern ideas“. In 1859, during the war of Napoleon III with Austria, Veuillot foresaw that this undertaking would result inevitably in the destruction of the temporal sovereignty of the pope, and he pointed out the dangers of the Napoleonic policy. Soon the “Univers” was suppressed by the Government for having published the Encyclical, “Nullis certe”, in which Pius IX denounced the same dangers (29 Jan., 1860). Deprived of his journal Veuillot devoted himself to writing pamphlets and books which made a great stir. All were devoted to a single cause,religious truth. In 1867 he was once more able to publish the “Univers”. The subjects which engaged him were of the utmost importance to France, Europe, and the world. They may be classified in three categories: the visible decline of the imperial régime, the European conspiracy against the temporal power of the pope, the Vatican Council and its preliminaries. The discussions were incessant. Veuillot withstood the opposition of ten journals. His adversaries included men of talent, such as Prévost-Paradol, Guéroult, About, and many others who represented free-thinking, philosophy, or the revolutionary policy known as Liberal, and during this time he was often the object of attacks from Catholic sources.
This double conflict became still more acute prior to and during the session of the council. Numerous and prolonged discussions were sustained by Veuillot with the free-thinkers, who were extremely irritated by the announcement of the council, and with the Catholic opponents of the doctrine of infallibility. Several times in the course of the disputes entered into by the “Univers”, Pius IX declared himself in favour of that journal which several bishops were attacking vigorously, while many others defended it. Veuillot refrained from allying himself with any political party. His rule of conduct formulated in 1842 was: “Avoid factions of all kinds; we belong only to our Church and our country.” He supported or opposed the successive Governments according to the manner in which they treated the Church. Hence, after having vigorously upheld the Second Empire he withdrew his support when Napoleon III favoured the free-thinking or revolutionary ideas. In 1871 he supported Comte de Chambord who wished to restore the Christian monarchy.
Veuillot’s work as a journalist is comprised in 12 volumes entitled, “Mélanges religieux, historiques, politiques et littéraires”. This collection represents the political and religious history of a period of forty years, many of the articles being masterpieces. This is acknowledged by the free-thinkers themselves, who recognize Veuillot not only as an incomparable journalist but as one of the greatest writers of France. Since his death his reputation has continued to spread. In the free-thinking world, where formerly he was furiously attacked, his talent and character are now admired. Besides countless works as a journalist, he wrote also romances and poems, all inspired by a love of religious faith. Of his voluminous correspondence, and eminent critic, askeptic, but one always respectful towards religion, M. Jules Lemaitre, says that it is “With that of Voltaire-for what different reasons-the most extraordinary ever left by a man of letters”. The same critic says again, “Among writers who count, Veuillot seems to me the best in the tradition of the language, while he is likewise one of the most free and individual. . .I do not hesitate to number him among the half-dozen very great prose writers of the century.” Louis Veuillot’s brother, Eugene Veuillot, intimately sharing his life, labours, and combats, himself a very brilliant polemist, and who until his death at the age of 87 (1905) continued to edit the “Univers”, wrote an account in three volumes of his brother’s career and history.
The works of Louis Veuillot comprise 58 volumes. They are: “Les Pèlerinagesde Suisse” (2 vols., 1838); “Pierre Saintive” (1839); “Rome et Lorrette” (1841); “Histoirettes et fantaisies” (1844-66); “Agnes de Lauwens:Mémoires de Soeur Saint-Louis” (1845); “L’honnète femme” (1844; 1908); “Les Français en Algérie” (1845); “Les libre penseurs” (1848; 1866); “L’esclave Vindex”; “Le lendemain de la victoire”; “La légalité”; (pamphlets, 1851; 1871); “La vie de la bienheureuse Germaine Cousin” (1854; 1909); “Le droit du seigneur au moyen-Age” (1854); “La guerre et l’homme de guerre” (1855); “Cà et Là” (2 vols. 1859; 1874); “Le parfum de Rome” (2 vols. 1861; 1867); “Le fond de giboyer” (1863); “De quelques erreurs sur la papauté” (1859); “La Vie de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ” (1864; large illustrated edition, 1875); “Les odeurs de Paris” (1867); “Corbin et d’Aubecourt” (1854; 1869); “Paris pendant les deux sieges” (2 vols., 1871); “Rome pendant le concile” (1876; from the Mélanges); “Moliere et Bourdaloue” (1877); “Oeuvres poetiques” (1878); “Etudes sur Victor Hugo” (1886); “Cara” (posthumous poems); “Mélanges” etc. (22 vols. in 4 series, 1856; 1859; 1876; 1909); “Correspondance” (7 vols. 1884; 1885; 1887; 1892).