Front Page Titles (by Subject) ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE: PART THE FIRST - The Recollections of Alexis de Tocqueville
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ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE: PART THE FIRST - Alexis de Tocqueville, The Recollections of Alexis de Tocqueville 
The Recollections of Alexis de Tocqueville, edited by the Comte de Tocqueville and now first translated into English by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos. With a portrait in Heliogravure (New York: Macmillan, 1896).
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ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE
PART THE FIRST
Written in July 1850, at Tocqueville.
ORIGIN AND CHARACTER OF THESE RECOLLECTIONS—GENERAL ASPECT OF THE PERIOD PRECEDING THE REVOLUTION OF 1848—PRELIMINARY SYMPTOMS OF THE REVOLUTION.
Removed for a time from the scene of public life, I am constrained, in the midst of my solitude, to turn my thoughts upon myself, or rather to reflect upon contemporary events in which I have taken part or acted as a witness. And it seems to me that the best use I can make of my leisure is to retrace these events, to portray the men who took part in them under my eyes, and thus to seize and engrave, if I can, upon my memory the confused features which compose the disturbed physiognomy of my time.
In taking this resolve I have taken another, to which I shall be no less true: these recollections shall be a relaxation of the mind rather than a contribution to literature. I write them for myself alone. They shall be a mirror in which I will amuse myself in contemplating my contemporaries and myself; not a picture painted for the public. My most intimate friends shall not see them, for I wish to retain the liberty of depicting them as I shall depict myself, without flattery. I wish to arrive truly at the secret motives which have caused them, and me, and others to act; and, when discovered, to reveal them here. In a word, I wish this expression of my recollections to be a sincere one; and to effect this, it is essential that it should remain absolutely secret.
I intend that my recollections shall not go farther back than the Revolution of 1848, nor extend to a later date than the 30th of October 1849, the day upon which I resigned my office. It is only within these limits that the events which I propose to relate have any importance, or that my position has enabled me to observe them well.
My life was passed, although in a comparatively secluded fashion, in the midst of the parliamentary world of the closing years of the Monarchy of July. Nevertheless, it would be no easy task for me to recall distinctly the events of a period so little removed from the present, and yet leaving so confused a trace in my memory. The thread of my recollections is lost amid the whirl of minor incidents, of paltry ideas, of petty passions, of personal views and contradictory opinions in which the life of public men was at that time spent. All that remains vivid in my mind is the general aspect of the period; for I often regarded it with a curiosity mingled with dread, and I clearly discerned the special features by which it was characterized.
Our history from 1789 to 1830, if viewed from a distance and as a whole, affords as it were the picture of a struggle to the death between the Ancien Régime, its traditions, memories, hopes, and men, as represented by the aristocracy, and New France under the leadership of the middle class. The year 1830 closed the first period of our revolutions, or rather of our revolution: for there is but one, which has remained always the same in the face of varying fortunes, of which our fathers witnessed the commencement, and of which we, in all probability, shall not live to behold the end. In 1830 the triumph of the middle class had been definite and so thorough that all political power, every franchise, every prerogative, and the whole government was confined and, as it were, heaped up within the narrow limits of this one class, to the statutory exclusion of all beneath them and the actual exclusion of all above. Not only did it thus alone rule society, but it may be said to have formed it. It ensconced itself in every vacant place, prodigiously augmented the number of places, and accustomed itself to live almost as much upon the Treasury as upon its own industry.
No sooner had the Revolution of 1830 become an accomplished fact, than there ensued a great lull in political passion, a sort of general subsidence, accompanied by a rapid increase in the public wealth. The particular spirit of the middle class became the general spirit of the government; it ruled the latter’s foreign policy as well as affairs at home: an active, industrious spirit, often dishonourable, generally sober, occasionally reckless through vanity or egoism, but timid by temperament, moderate in all things, except in its love of ease and comfort, and wholly undistinguished. It was a spirit which, mingled with that of the people or of the aristocracy, can do wonders; but which, by itself, will never produce more than a government shorn of both virtue and greatness. Master of everything in a manner that no aristocracy had ever been or may ever hope to be, the middle class, when called upon to assume the government, took it up as a trade; it entrenched itself behind its power, and before long, in their egoism, each of its members thought much more of his private business than of public affairs, and of his personal enjoyment than of the greatness of the nation.
Posterity, which sees none but the more dazzling crimes, and which loses sight, in general, of mere vices, will never, perhaps, know to what extent the government of that day, towards its close, assumed the ways of a trading company, which conducts all its transactions with a view to the profits accruing to the shareholders. These vices were due to the natural instincts of the dominant class, to the absoluteness of its power, and also to the character of the time. Possibly also King Louis-Philippe had contributed to their growth.
This Prince was a singular medley of qualities, and one must have known him longer and more nearly than I did to be able to portray him in detail.
Nevertheless, although I was never one of his Council, I have frequently had occasion to come into contact with him. The last time that I spoke to him was shortly before the catastrophe of February. I was then director of the Académie Française, and I had to bring to the King’s notice some matter or other which concerned that body. After treating the question which had brought me, I was about to retire, when the King detained me, took a chair, motioned me to another, and said, affably:
“Since you are here, Monsieur de Tocqueville, let us talk; I want to hear you talk a little about America.”
I knew him well enough to know that this meant: I shall talk about America myself. And he did actually talk of it at great length and very searchingly: it was not possible for me, nor did I desire, to get in a word, for he really interested me. He described places as though he saw them before him; he recalled the distinguished men whom he had met forty years ago as though he had seen them the day before; he mentioned their names in full, Christian name and surname, gave their ages at the time, related their histories, their pedigrees, their posterity, with marvellous exactness and with infinite, though in no way tedious, detail. From America he returned, without taking breath, to Europe, talked of all our foreign and domestic affairs with incredible unconstraint (for I had no title to his confidence), spoke very badly of the Emperor of Russia, whom he called “Monsieur Nicolas,” casually alluded to Lord Palmerston as a rogue, and ended by holding forth at length on the Spanish marriages, which had just taken place, and the annoyances to which they subjected him on the side of England.
“The Queen is very angry with me,” he said, “and displays great irritation; but, after all,” he added, “all this outcry won’t keep me from driving my own cart.”1
Although this phrase dated back to the Old Order, I felt inclined to doubt whether Louis XIV. ever made use of it on accepting the Spanish Succession. I believe, moreover, that Louis-Philippe was mistaken, and, to borrow his own language, that the Spanish marriage helped not a little to upset his cart.
After three-quarters of an hour, the King rose, thanked me for the pleasure my conversation had given him (I had not spoken four words), and dismissed me, feeling evidently as delighted as one generally is with a man before whom one thinks one has spoken well. This was my last audience of the King.
Louis-Philippe improvised all the replies which he made, even upon the most critical occasions, to the great State bodies; he was as fluent then as in his private conversation, although not so happy or epigrammatic. He would suddenly become obscure, for the reason that he boldly plunged headlong into long sentences, of which he was not able to estimate the extent nor perceive the end beforehand, and from which he finally emerged struggling and by force, shattering the sense, and not completing the thought.
In this political world thus constituted and conducted, what was most wanting, particularly towards the end, was political life itself. It could neither come into being nor be maintained within the legal circle which the Constitution had traced for it: the old aristocracy was vanquished, the people excluded. As all business was discussed among members of one class, in the interest and in the spirit of that class, there was no battlefield for contending parties to meet upon. This singular homogeneity of position, of interests, and consequently of views, reigning in what M. Guizot had once called the legal country, deprived the parliamentary debates of all originality, of all reality, and therefore of all genuine passion. I have spent ten years of my life in the company of truly great minds, who were in a constant state of agitation without succeeding in heating themselves, and who spent all their perspicacity in vain endeavours to find subjects upon which they could seriously disagree.
On the other hand, the preponderating influence which King Louis-Philippe had acquired in public affairs, which never permitted the politicians to stray very far from that Prince’s ideas, lest they should at the same time be removed from power, reduced the different colours of parties to the merest shades, and debates to the splitting of straws. I doubt whether any parliament (not excepting the Constituent Assembly, I mean the true one, that of 1789) ever contained more varied and brilliant talents than did ours during the closing years of the Monarchy of July. Nevertheless, I am able to declare that these great orators were tired to death of listening to one another, and, what was worse, the whole country was tired of listening to them. It grew unconsciously accustomed to look upon the debates in the Chambers as exercises of the intellect rather than as serious discussions, and upon all the differences between the various parliamentary parties—the majority, the left centre, or the dynastic opposition—as domestic quarrels between children of one family trying to trick one another. A few glaring instances of corruption, discovered by accident, led it to presuppose a number of hidden cases, and convinced it that the whole of the governing class was corrupt; whence it conceived for the latter a silent contempt, which was generally taken for confiding and contented submission.
The country was at that time divided into two unequal parts, or rather zones: in the upper, which alone was intended to contain the whole of the nation’s political life, there reigned nothing but languor, impotence, stagnation, and boredom; in the lower, on the contrary, political life began to make itself manifest by means of feverish and irregular signs, of which the attentive observer was easily able to seize the meaning.
I was one of these observers; and although I was far from imagining that the catastrophe was so near at hand and fated to be so terrible, I felt a distrust springing up and insensibly growing in my mind, and the idea taking root more and more that we were making strides towards a fresh revolution. This denoted a great change in my thoughts; since the general appeasement and flatness that followed the Revolution of July had led me to believe for a long time that I was destined to spend my life amid an enervated and peaceful society. Indeed, anyone who had only examined the inside of the governmental fabric would have had the same conviction. Everything there seemed combined to produce with the machinery of liberty a preponderance of royal power which verged upon despotism; and, in fact, this result was produced almost without effort by the regular and tranquil movement of the machine. King Louis-Philippe was persuaded that, so long as he did not himself lay hand upon that fine instrument, and allowed it to work according to rule, he was safe from all peril. His only occupation was to keep it in order, and to make it work according to his own views, forgetful of society, upon which this ingenious piece of mechanism rested; he resembled the man who refused to believe that his house was on fire, because he had the key in his pocket. I had neither the same interests nor the same cares, and this permitted me to see through the mechanism of institutions and the agglomeration of petty every-day facts, and to observe the state of morals and opinions in the country. There I clearly beheld the appearance of several of the portents that usually denote the approach of revolutions, and I began to believe that in 1830 I had taken for the end of the play what was nothing more than the end of an act.
A short unpublished document which I composed at the time, and a speech which I delivered early in 1848, will bear witness to these pre-occupations of my mind.
A number of my friends in Parliament met together in October 1847, to decide upon the policy to be adopted during the ensuing session. It was agreed that we should issue a programme in the form of a manifesto, and the task of drawing it up was deputed to me. Later, the idea of this publication was abandoned, but I had already written the document. I have discovered it among my papers, and I give the following extracts. After commenting on the symptoms of languor in Parliament, I continued:
“. . . . . The time will come when the country will find itself once again divided between two great parties. The French Revolution, which abolished all privileges and destroyed all exclusive rights, has allowed one to remain, that of landed property. Let not the landlords deceive themselves as to the strength of their position, nor think that the rights of property form an insurmountable barrier because they have not as yet been surmounted; for our times are unlike any others. When the rights of property were merely the origin and commencement of a number of other rights, they were easily defended, or rather, they were never attacked; they then formed the surrounding wall of society, of which all other rights were the outposts; no blows reached them; no serious attempt was ever made to touch them. But to-day, when the rights of property are nothing more than the last remnants of an overthrown aristocratic world; when they alone are left intact, isolated privileges amid the universal levelling of society; when they are no longer protected behind a number of still more controversible and odious rights, the case is altered, and they alone are left daily to resist the direct and unceasing shock of democratic opinion. . . .
“. . . Before long, the political struggle will be restricted to those who have and those who have not; property will form the great field of battle; and the principal political questions will turn upon the more or less important modifications to be introduced into the rights of landlords. We shall then have once more among us great public agitations and great political parties.
“How is it that these premonitory symptoms escape the general view? Can anyone believe that it is by accident, through some passing whim of the human brain, that we see appearing on every side these curious doctrines, bearing different titles, but all characterized in their essence by their denial of the rights of property, and all tending, at least, to limit, diminish, and weaken the exercise of these rights? Who can fail here to recognise the final symptom of the old democratic disease of the time, whose crisis would seem to be at hand?”
I was still more urgent and explicit in the speech which I delivered in the Chamber of Deputies on the 29th of January 1848, and which appeared in the Moniteur of the 30th.
I quote the principal passages:
. . . . . .
“. . . I am told that there is no danger because there are no riots; I am told that, because there is no visible disorder on the surface of society, there is no revolution at hand.
“Gentlemen, permit me to say that I believe you are deceived. True, there is no actual disorder; but it has entered deeply into men’s minds. See what is passing in the breasts of the working classes, who, I grant, are at present quiet. No doubt they are not disturbed by political passion, properly so-called, to the same extent that they have been; but can you not see that their passions, instead of political, have become social? Do you not see that there are gradually forming in their breasts opinions and ideas which are destined not only to upset this or that law, ministry, or even form of government, but society itself, until it totters upon the foundations on which it rests to-day? Do you not listen to what they say to themselves each day? Do you not hear them repeating unceasingly that all that is above them is incapable and unworthy of governing them; that the present distribution of goods throughout the world is unjust; that property rests on a foundation which is not an equitable foundation? And do you not realize that when such opinions take root, when they spread in an almost universal manner, when they sink deeply into the masses, they are bound to bring with them sooner or later, I know not when nor how, a most formidable revolution?
“This, gentlemen, is my profound conviction: I believe that we are at this moment sleeping on a volcano. I am profoundly convinced of it. . . .
. . . . . .
“. . . I was saying just now that this evil would, sooner or later, I know not how nor whence it will come, bring with it a most serious revolution: be assured that that is so.
“When I come to investigate what, at different times, in different periods, among different peoples, has been the effective cause that has brought about the downfall of the governing classes, I perceive this or that event, man, or accidental or superficial cause; but, believe me, the real reason, the effective reason which causes men to lose their power is, that they have become unworthy to retain it.
“Think, gentlemen, of the old Monarchy: it was stronger than you are, stronger in its origin; it was able to lean more than you do upon ancient customs, ancient habits, ancient beliefs; it was stronger than you are, and yet it has fallen to dust. And why did it fall? Do you think it was by some particular mischance? Do you think it was by the act of some man, by the deficit, the oath in the Tennis Court, La Fayette, Mirabeau? No, gentlemen; there was another reason: the class that was then the governing class had become, through its indifference, its selfishness and its vices, incapable and unworthy of governing the country.
“That was the true reason.
“Well, gentlemen, if it is right to have this patriotic prejudice at all times, how much more is it not right to have it in our own? Do you not feel, by some intuitive instinct which is not capable of analysis, but which is undeniable, that the earth is quaking once again in Europe? Do you not feel. . . . what shall I say? . . . as it were a gale of revolution in the air? This gale, no one knows whence it springs, whence it blows, nor, believe me, whom it will carry with it; and it is in such times as these that you remain calm before the degradation of public morality—for the expression is not too strong.
“I speak without bitterness; I am even addressing you without any party spirit; I am attacking men against whom I feel no vindictiveness. But I am obliged to communicate to my country my firm and decided conviction. Well then, my firm and decided conviction is this: that public morality is being degraded, and that the degradation of public morality will shortly, very shortly, perhaps, bring down upon you a new revolution. Is the life of kings held by stronger threads? Are these more difficult to snap than those of other men? Can you say to-day that you are certain of to-morrow? Do you know what may happen in France a year hence, or even a month or a day hence? You do not know; but what you must know is that the tempest is looming on the horizon, that it is coming towards us. Will you allow it to take you by surprise?
“Gentlemen, I implore you not to do so. I do not ask you, I implore you. I would gladly throw myself on my knees before you, so strongly do I believe in the reality and the seriousness of the danger, so convinced am I that my warnings are no empty rhetoric. Yes, the danger is great. Allay it while there is yet time; correct the evil by efficacious remedies, by attacking it not in its symptoms but in itself.
“Legislative changes have been spoken of. I am greatly disposed to think that these changes are not only very useful, but necessary; thus, I believe in the need of electoral reform, in the urgency of parliamentary reform; but I am not, gentlemen, so mad as not to know that no laws can affect the destinies of nations. No, it is not the mechanism of laws that produces great events, gentlemen, but the inner spirit of the government. Keep the laws as they are, if you wish. I think you would be very wrong to do so; but keep them. Keep the men, too, if it gives you any pleasure. I raise no objection so far as I am concerned. But, in God’s name, change the spirit of the government; for, I repeat, that spirit will lead you to the abyss.”1
These gloomy predictions were received with ironical cheers from the majority. The Opposition applauded loudly, but more from party feeling than conviction. The truth is that no one as yet believed seriously in the danger which I was prophesying, although we were so near the catastrophe. The inveterate habit contracted by all the politicians, during this long parliamentary farce, of over-colouring the expression of their opinions and grossly exaggerating their thoughts had deprived them of all power of appreciating what was real and true. For several years the majority had every day been declaring that the Opposition was imperilling society; and the Opposition repeated incessantly that the Ministers were ruining the Monarchy. These statements had been made so constantly on both sides, without either side greatly believing in them, that they ended by not believing in them at all, at the very moment when the event was about to justify both of them. Even my own friends themselves thought that I had overshot the mark, and that my facts were a little blurred by rhetoric.
I remember that, when I stepped from the tribune, Dufaure took me on one side, and said, with that sort of parliamentary intuition which is his only note of genius:
“You have succeeded, but you would have succeeded much more if you had not gone so far beyond the feeling of the Assembly and tried to frighten us.”
And now that I am face to face with myself, searching in my memory to discover whether I was actually myself so much alarmed as I seemed, the answer is no, and I readily recognise that the event justified me more promptly and more completely than I foresaw (a thing which may sometimes have happened to other political prophets, better authorized to predict than I was). No, I did not expect such a revolution as we were destined to have; and who could have expected it? I did, I believe, perceive more clearly than the others the general causes which were making for the event; but I did not observe the accidents which were to precipitate it. Meantime the days which still separated us from the catastrophe passed rapidly by.
THE BANQUETS—SENSE OF SECURITY ENTERTAINED BY THE GOVERNMENT—ANXIETY OF LEADERS OF THE OPPOSITION—ARRAIGNMENT OF MINISTERS.
I refused to take part in the affair of the banquets. I had both serious and petty reasons for abstaining. What I call my petty reasons I am quite willing to describe as bad reasons, although they were consistent with honour, and would have been unexceptionable in a private matter. They were the irritation and disgust aroused in me by the character and by the tactics of the leaders of this enterprise. Nevertheless, I confess that the private prejudice which we entertain with regard to individuals is a bad guide in politics.
A close alliance had at that time been effected between M. Thiers and M. Barrot, and a real fusion formed between the two sections of the Opposition, which, in our parliamentary jargon, we called the Left Centre and the Left. Almost all the stubborn and intractable spirits which were found in the latter party had successively been softened, unbent, subjugated, made supple, by the promises of place spread broadcast by M. Thiers. I believe that even M. Barrot had for the first time allowed himself not exactly to be won over, but surprised, by arguments of this kind. At any rate, the most complete intimacy reigned between the two great leaders of the Opposition, whatever was the cause of it, and M. Barrot, who likes to mingle a little simplicity with his weaknesses as well as with his virtues, exerted himself to his utmost to secure the triumph of his ally, even at his own expense. M. Thiers had allowed him to involve himself in this matter of the banquets; I even think that he had instigated Barrot in that direction without consenting to involve himself. He was willing to accept the results, but not the responsibilities, of that dangerous agitation. Wherefore, surrounded by his personal friends, he stayed mute and motionless in Paris, while Barrot travelled all over the country for three months, making long speeches in every town he stopped at, and resembling, in my opinion, those beaters who make a great noise in order to bring the game within easy range of the sportsman’s gun. Personally, I felt no inclination to take part in the sport. But the principal and more serious reason which restrained me was this: and I expounded it pretty often to those who wanted to drag me to those political meetings:
“For the first time for eighteen years,” I used to tell them, “you are proposing to appeal to the people, and to seek support outside the middle class. If you fail in rousing the people (and I think this will be the most probable result), you will become still more odious than you already are in the eyes of the Government and of the middle classes, who for a great part support it. In this way you will strengthen the administration which you desire to upset; while if, on the contrary, you succeed in rousing the people, you are no more able than I am to foresee whither an agitation of this kind will lead you.”
In the measure that the campaign of the banquets was prolonged, the latter hypothesis became, contrary to my expectation, the more probable. A certain anxiety began to oppress the ringleaders themselves; an indefinite anxiety, passing vaguely through their minds. I was told by Beaumont, who was at that time one of the first among them, that the excitement occasioned in the country by the banquets surpassed not only the hopes, but the wishes, of those who had started it. The latter were labouring to allay rather than increase it. Their intention was that there should be no banquet in Paris, and that there should be none held anywhere after the assembling of the Chambers. The fact is that they were only seeking a way out of the mischievous road which they had entered upon. And it was undoubtedly in spite of them that this final banquet was resolved on; they were constrained to take part in it, drawn into it; their vanity was compromised. The Government, by its defiance, goaded the Opposition into adopting this dangerous measure, thinking thus to drive it to destruction. The Opposition let itself be caught in a spirit of bravado, and lest it should be suspected of retreating; and thus irritating each other, spurring one another on, they dragged each other towards the common abyss, which neither of them as yet perceived.
I remember that two days before the Revolution of February, at the Turkish Ambassador’s ball, I met Duvergier de Hauranne. I felt for him both friendship and esteem; although he possessed very nearly all the failings that arise from party spirit, he at least joined to them the sort of disinterestedness and sincerity which one meets with in genuine passions, two rare advantages in our day, when the only genuine passion is that of self. I said to him, with the familiarity warranted by our relations:
“Courage, my friend; you are playing a dangerous game.”
He replied gravely, but with no sign of fear:
“Believe me, all will end well; besides, one must risk something. There is no free government that has not had to go through a similar experience.”
This reply perfectly describes this determined but somewhat narrow character; narrow, I say, although with plenty of brain, but with the brain which, while seeing clearly and in detail all that is on the horizon, is incapable of conceiving that the horizon may change; scholarly, disinterested, ardent, vindictive, sprung from that learned and sectarian race which guides itself in politics by imitation of others and by historical recollection, and which restricts its thought to one sole idea, at which it warms, in which it blinds itself.
For the rest, the Government were even less uneasy than the leaders of the Opposition. A few days before the above conversation, I had had another with Duchâtel, the Minister of the Interior. I was on good terms with this minister, although for the last eight years I had been very boldly (even too boldly, I confess, in the case of its foreign policy) attacking the Cabinet of which he was one of the principal members. I am not sure that this fault did not even make me find favour in his eyes, for I believe that at the bottom of his heart he had a sneaking fondness for those who attacked his colleague at the Foreign Office, M. Guizot. A battle which M. Duchâtel and I had fought some years before in favour of the penitentiary system had brought us together and given rise to a certain intimacy between us. This man was very unlike the one I mentioned above: he was as heavy in his person and his manners as the other was meagre, angular, and sometimes trenchant and bitter. He was as remarkable for his scepticism as the other for his ardent convictions, for flabby indifference as the former for feverish activity; he possessed a very supple, very quick, very subtle mind enclosed in a massive body; he understood business admirably, while pretending to be above it; he was thoroughly acquainted with the evil passions of mankind, and especially with the evil passions of his party, and always knew how to turn them to advantage. He was free from all rancour and prejudice, cordial in his address, easy of approach, obliging, whenever his own interests were not compromised, and bore a kindly contempt for his fellow-creatures.
I was about to say that, some days before the catastrophe, I drew M. Duchâtel into a corner of the conference room, and observed to him that the Government and the Opposition seemed to be striving in concert to drive things to an extremity calculated to end by damaging everybody; and I asked him if he saw no honest way of escape from a regrettable position, some honourable transaction which would permit everyone to draw back. I added that my friends and I would be happy to have such a way pointed out to us, and that we would make every exertion to persuade our colleagues in the Opposition to accept it. He listened attentively to my remarks, and assured me that he understood my meaning, although I saw clearly that he did not enter into it for a moment.
“Things had reached such a pitch,” he said, “that the expedient which I sought was no longer to be found. The Government was in the right, and could not yield. If the Opposition persisted in its course, the result might be a combat in the streets, but this combat had long been foreseen, and if the Government was animated with the evil passions with which it was credited, it would desire this fighting rather than dread it, being sure to triumph in the end.”
He went on in his complaisant fashion to tell me in detail of all the military precautions that had been taken, the extent of the resources, the number of the troops, and the quantity of ammunition. . . . I took my leave, satisfied that the Government, without exactly striving to promote an outbreak, was far from dreading one, and that the Ministry, in its certainty of ultimate victory, saw in the threatening catastrophe possibly its last means of rallying its scattered supporters and of finally reducing its adversaries to powerlessness. I confess that I thought as he did; his air of unfeigned assurance had proved contagious.
The only really uneasy people in Paris at that moment were the Radical chiefs and the men who were sufficiently in touch with the people and the revolutionary party to know what was taking place in that quarter. I have reason to believe that most of these looked with dread upon the events which were ready to burst forth, whether because they kept up the tradition of their former passions rather than these passions themselves, or because they had begun to grow accustomed to a state of things in which they had taken up their position after so many times cursing it; or again, because they were doubtful of success; or rather because, being in a position to study and become well acquainted with their allies, they were frightened at the last moment of the victory which they expected to gain through their aid. On the very day before the outbreak, Madame de Lamartine betrayed extraordinary anxiety when calling upon Madame de Tocqueville, and gave such unmistakable signs of a mind heated and almost deranged by ominous thoughts that the latter became alarmed, and told me of it the same evening.
It is not one of the least curious characteristics of this singular revolution that the incident which led to it was brought about and almost longed for by the men whom it eventually precipitated from power, and that it was only foreseen and feared by those who were to triumph by its means.
Here let me for a moment resume the chain of history, so that I may the more easily attach to it the thread of my personal recollections.
It will be remembered that, at the opening of the session of 1848, King Louis-Philippe, in his Speech from the Throne, had described the authors of the banquets as men excited by blind or hostile passions. This was bringing Royalty into direct conflict with more than one hundred members of the Chamber. This insult, which added anger to all the ambitious passions which were already disturbing the hearts of the majority of these men, ended by making them lose their reason. A violent debate was expected, but did not take place at once. The earlier discussions on the Address were calm: the majority and the Opposition both restrained themselves at the commencement, like two men who feel that they have lost their tempers, and who fear lest while in that condition they should perpetrate some folly in word or deed.
But the storm of passion broke out at last, and continued with unaccustomed violence. The extraordinary heat of these debates was already redolent of civil war for those who knew how to scent revolutions from afar.
The spokesmen of the moderate section of the Opposition were led, in the heat of debate, to assert that the right of assembling at the banquets was one of our most undeniable and essential rights;1 that to question it, was equivalent to trampling liberty itself underfoot and to violating the Charter, and that those who did so unconsciously made an appeal, not to discussion, but to arms. On his side M. Duchâtel, who ordinarily was very dexterous in debate, displayed in this circumstance a consummate want of tact.2 He absolutely denied the right of assemblage, and yet would not say clearly that the Government had made up its mind to prohibit thenceforth any manifestations of the kind. On the contrary, he seemed to invite the Opposition to try the experiment once more, so that the question might be brought before the Courts. His colleague, M. Hébert, the Minister of Justice, was still more tactless, but this was his habit. I have always observed that lawyers never make statesmen; but I have never met anyone who was less of a statesman than M. Hébert. He remained the Public-Prosecutor down to the marrow of his bones; he had all the mental and physical characteristics of that office. You must imagine a little wizened, sorry face, shrunk at the temples, with a pointed forehead, nose and chin, cold, bright eyes, and thin, in-drawn lips. Add to this a long quill generally held across the mouth, and looking at a distance like a cat’s bristling whiskers, and you have a portrait of a man, than whom I have never seen anyone more resembling a carnivorous animal. At the same time, he was neither stupid nor even ill-natured; but he was by nature hot-headed and unyielding; he always overshot his goal, for want of knowing when to turn aside or stop still; and he fell into violence without intending it, and from sheer want of discrimination. It showed how little importance M. Guizot attached to conciliation, that under the circumstances he sent a speaker of this stamp into the tribune;1 his language while there was so outrageous and so provoking that Barrot, quite beside himself and almost without knowing what he was doing, exclaimed, in a voice half stifled with rage, that the ministers of Charles X., that Polignac and Peyronnet, had never dared to talk like that. I remember that I shuddered involuntarily in my seat when I heard this naturally moderate man exasperated into recalling, for the first time, the terrible memories of the Revolution of 1830, holding it up in some sort as an example, and unconsciously suggesting the idea of repeating it.
The result of this heated discussion was a sort of challenge to mortal combat exchanged between the Government and the Opposition, the scene of the duel to be the law-courts. It was tacitly agreed that the challenged party should meet at one final banquet; that the authorities, without interfering to prevent the meeting, should prosecute its organizers, and that the courts should pronounce judgment.
The debates on the Address were closed, if I remember rightly, on the 12th of February, and it is really from this moment that the revolutionary movement burst out. The Constitutional Opposition, which had for many months been constantly pushed on by the Radical party, was from this time forward led and directed not so much by the members of that party who occupied seats in the Chamber of Deputies (the greater number of these had become lukewarm and, as it were, enervated in the Parliamentary atmosphere), as by the younger, bolder, and more irresponsible men who wrote for the democratic press. This change was especially apparent in two principal facts which had an overwhelming influence upon events—the programme of the banquet and the arraignment of Ministers.
On the 20th of February, there appeared in almost all the Opposition newspapers, by way of programme of the approaching banquet, what was really a proclamation calling upon the entire population to join in an immense political demonstration, convoking the schools and inviting the National Guard itself to attend the ceremony in a body. It read like a decree emanating from the Provisional Government which was to be set up three days later. The Cabinet, which had already been blamed by many of its followers for tacitly authorising the banquet, considered that it was justified in retracing its steps. It officially announced that it forbade the banquet, and that it would prevent it by force.
It was this declaration of the Government which provided the field for the battle. I am in a position to state, although it sounds hardly credible, that the programme which thus suddenly turned the banquet into an insurrection was resolved upon, drawn up and published without the participation or the knowledge of the members of Parliament who considered themselves to be still leading the movement which they had called into existence. The programme was the hurried work of a nocturnal gathering of journalists and Radicals, and the leaders of the Dynastic Opposition heard of it at the same time as the public, by reading it in the papers in the morning.
And see how uncertain is the course of human affairs! M. Odilon Barrot, who disapproved of the programme as much as anyone, dared not disclaim it for fear of offending the men who, till then, had seemed to be moving with him; and then, when the Government, alarmed by the publication of this document, prohibited the banquet, M. Barrot, finding himself brought face to face with civil war, drew back. He himself gave up this dangerous demonstration; but at the same time that he was making this concession to the men of moderation, he granted to the extremists the impeachment of Ministers. He accused the latter of violating the Constitution by prohibiting the banquet, and thus furnished an excuse to those who were about to take up arms in the name of the violated Constitution,
Thus the principal leaders of the Radical Party, who thought that a revolution would be premature, and who did not yet desire it, had considered themselves obliged, in order to differentiate themselves from their allies in the Dynastic Opposition, to make very revolutionary speeches and fan the flame of insurrectionary passion. On the other hand, the Dynastic Opposition, which had had enough of the banquets, had been forced to persevere in this bad course so as not to present an appearance of retreating before the defiance of the Government. And finally, the mass of the Conservatives, who believed in the necessity of great concessions and were ready to make them, were driven by the violence of their adversaries and the passions of some of their chiefs to deny even the right of meeting in private banquets and to refuse the country any hopes of reform.
One must have lived long amid political parties, and in the very whirlwind in which they move, to understand to what extent men mutually push each other away from their respective plans, and how the destinies of this world proceed as the result, but often as the contrary result, of the intentions that produce them, similarly to the kite which flies by the antagonistic action of the wind and the cord.
TROUBLES OF THE 22ND OF FEBRUARY—THE SITTING OF THE 23RD—THE NEW MINISTRY—OPINIONS OF M. DUFAURE AND M. DE BEAUMONT.
I did not perceive anything on the 22nd of February calculated to give rise to serious apprehensions. There was a crowd in the streets, but it seemed to be composed rather of sight-seers and fault-finders than of the seditiously inclined: the soldier and the townsman chaffed each other when they met, and I heard more jokes than cries uttered by the crowd. I know that it is not safe to trust one’s self to these appearances. It is the street-boys of Paris who generally commence the insurrections, and as a rule they do so light-heartedly, like schoolboys breaking up for the holidays.
When I returned to the Chamber, I found a seeming listlessness reigning there, beneath which one could perceive the inner seething of a thousand restrained passions. It was the only place in Paris in which, since the early morning, I had not heard discussed aloud what was then absorbing all France. They were languidly discussing a bill for the creation of a bank at Bordeaux; but in reality no one, except the man talking in the tribune and the man who was to reply to him, showed any interest in the matter. M. Duchâtel told me that all was going well. He said this with an air of combined confidence and nervousness which struck me as suspicious. I noticed that he twisted his neck and shoulders (a common trick with him) much more frequently and violently than usual; and I remember that this little observation gave me more food for reflection than all the rest.
I learnt that, as a matter of fact, there had been serious troubles in many parts of the town which I had not visited; a certain number of men had been killed or wounded. People were no longer accustomed to this sort of incident, as they had been some years before and as they became still more a few months later; and the excitement was great. I happened to be invited to dine that evening at the house of one of my fellow-members of Parliament and of the Opposition, M. Paulmier, the deputy for Calvados. I had some difficulty in getting there through the troops which guarded the surrounding streets. I found my host’s house in great disorder. Madame Paulmier, who was expecting her accouchement and who had been frightened by a skirmish that had taken place beneath her windows, had gone to bed. The dinner was magnificent, but the table was deserted; out of twenty guests invited, only five presented themselves; the others were kept back either by material impediments or by the preoccupations of the day. We sat down with a very thoughtful air amid all this abundance. Among the guests was M. Sallandrouze, the inheritor of the great business house of that name, which had made a large fortune by its manufacture of textile fabrics. He was one of those young Conservatives, richer in money than in honours, who, from time to time, made a show of opposition, or rather, of captious criticism, mainly, I think, to give themselves a certain importance. In the course of the last debate on the Address, M. Sallandrouze had moved an amendment1 which would have compromised the Cabinet, had it been adopted. At the time when this incident was most occupying attention, M. Sallandrouze one evening went to the reception at the Tuileries, hoping that this time, at least, he would not remain unrecognized in the crowd. And, in fact, no sooner had King Louise-Philippe seen him than he came up to him with a very assiduous mien, and solemnly took him aside and began to talk to him eagerly, and with a great display of interest, about the branch of manufacture to which the young deputy owed his fortune. The latter, at first, felt no astonishment, thinking that the King, who was known to be clever at managing men’s minds, had selected this little private road in order to lead round to affairs of State. But he was mistaken; for, after a quarter of an hour, the King changed not the conversation but the person addressed, and left our friend standing very confused amid his carpets and woollen stuffs. M. Sallandrouze had not yet got over this trick played upon him, but he was beginning to feel very much afraid that he would be revenged too well. He told us that M. Émile Girardin had said to him the day before, “In two days, the Monarchy of July will have ceased to exist.” This seemed to all of us a piece of journalistic hyperbole, and perhaps it was; but the events that followed turned it into an oracle.
On the next day, the 23rd of February, I learnt, on waking, that the excitement in Paris, so far from becoming calmer, was increasing. I went early to the Chamber; silence reigned around the Assembly; battalions of infantry occupied and closed the approaches, while troops of Cuirassiers were drawn up along the walls of the Palace. Inside, men’s feelings were excited without their quite knowing the reason.
The sitting had been opened at the ordinary time; but the Assembly had not had the courage to go through the same parliamentary comedy as on the day before, and had suspended its labours; it sat receiving reports from the different quarters of the town, awaiting events and counting the hours, in a state of feverish idleness. At a certain moment, a loud sound of trumpets was heard outside. It appeared that the Cuirassiers guarding the Palace were amusing themselves, in order to pass the time, by sounding flourishes on their instruments. The gay, triumphant tones of the trumpets contrasted in so melancholy a fashion with the thoughts by which all our minds were secretly disturbed, that a message was hurriedly sent out to stop this offensive and indiscreet performance, which caused such painful reflections to all of us.
At last, it was determined to speak aloud of what all had been discussing in whispers for several hours. A Paris deputy, M. Vavin, commenced to question the Cabinet upon the state of the city. At three o’clock M. Guizot appeared at the door of the House. He entered with his firmest step and his loftiest mien, silently crossed the gangway, ascended the tribune, throwing his head almost back from his shoulders for fear of seeming to lower it, and stated in two words that the King had called upon M. Molé to form a new ministry. Never did I see such a piece of clap-trap.
The Opposition kept their seats, most of them uttering cries of victory and satisfied revenge; the leaders alone sat silent, busy in communing with themselves upon the use they would make of their triumph, and careful not to insult a majority of which they might soon be called upon to make use. As to the majority, they seemed thunderstruck by this so unexpected blow, moved to and fro like a mass that sways from side to side, uncertain as to which side it shall fall on, and then descended noisily into the semi-circle. A few surrounded the ministers to ask them for explanations or to pay them their last respects, but the greater number clamoured against them with noisy and insulting shouts. “To throw up office, to abandon your political friends under such circumstances,” they said, “is a piece of gross cowardice;” while others exclaimed that the members ought to repair to the Tuileries in a body, and force the King to re-consider his fatal resolve.
This despair will arouse no astonishment when it is remembered that the greater number of these men felt themselves attacked, not only in their political opinions, but in the most sensitive part of their private interest. The fall of the Government compromised the entire fortune of one, the daughter’s dowry of another, the son’s career of a third. It was by this that they were almost all held. Most of them had not only bettered themselves by means of their votes, but one may say that they had lived on them. They still lived on them, and hoped to continue to live on them; for, the Ministry having lasted eight years, they had accustomed themselves to think that it would last for ever; they had grown attached to it with the honest, peaceful feeling of affection which one entertains for one’s fields. From my seat, I watched this swaying crowd; I saw surprise, anger, fear and avarice mingle their various expressions upon those bewildered countenances; and I drew an involuntary comparison between all these legislators and a pack of hounds which, with their jaws half filled, see the quarry withdrawn from them.
I grant, however, that, so far as many of the Opposition were concerned, it only wanted that they should be put to a similar test in order to make the same display. If many of the Conservatives only defended the Ministry with a view to keeping their places and emoluments, I am bound to say that many of the Opposition seemed to me only to attack it in order to reap the plunder in their turn. The truth—the deplorable truth—is that a taste for holding office and a desire to live on the public money are not with us a disease restricted to either party, but the great, chronic ailment of the whole nation; the result of the democratic constitution of our society and of the excessive centralization of our Government; the secret malady which has undermined all former powers, and which will undermine all powers to come.
At last the uproar ceased, as the nature of what had happened became better known: we learnt that it had been brought about by the insurrectionary inclinations of a battalion of the Fifth Legion and the applications made direct to the King by several officers of that section of the Guard.
So soon as he was informed of what was going on, King Louis-Philippe, who was less prone to change his opinions, but more ready to change his line of conduct, than any man I ever saw, had immediately made up his mind; and after eight years of complacency, the Ministry was dismissed by him in two minutes, and without ceremony.
The Chamber rose without delay, each member thinking only of the change of government, and forgetting about the revolution.
I went out with M. Dufaure, and soon perceived that he was not only preoccupied but constrained. I at once saw that he felt himself in the critical and complicated position of a leader of the Opposition, who was about to become a minister, and who, after experiencing the use his friends could be to him, was beginning to think of the difficulties which their pretensions might well cause him.
M. Dufaure had a somewhat cunning mind, which readily admitted such thoughts as these, and he also possessed a sort of natural rusticity which, combined with great integrity, but rarely permitted him to conceal them. He was, moreover, the sincerest and by far the most respectable of all those who at that moment had a chance of becoming ministers. He believed that power was at last within his grasp, and his ambition betrayed a passion that was the more eager inasmuch as it was discreet and suppressed. M. Molé in his place would have felt much greater egoism and still more ingratitude, but he would have been only all the more open-hearted and amiable.
I soon left him, and went to M. de Beaumont’s. There I found every heart rejoicing. I was far from sharing this joy, and finding myself among people with whom I could talk freely, I gave my reasons.
“The National Guard of Paris,” I said, “has upset a Cabinet; therefore it is during its good pleasure only that the new Ministers will remain at the head of affairs. You are glad because the Government is upset; but do you not see that it is authority itself which is overthrown?”
This sombre view of the political situation was not much to Beaumont’s taste; he was carried away by rancour and ambition.
“You always take a gloomy view of everything,” he said. “Let us first rejoice at the victory: we can lament over the results later.”
Madame de Beaumont, who was present at the interview, seemed herself to share her husband’s elation, and nothing ever so thoroughly proved to me the irresistible power of party feeling. For, by nature, neither hatred nor self-interest had a place in the heart of this distinguished and attractive woman, one of the most truly and consistently virtuous that I have met in my life, and one who best knew how to make virtue both touching and lovable. To the nobility of heart of the La Fayettes she added a mind that was witty, refined, kindly and just.
I, nevertheless, sustained my theory against both him and her, arguing that upon the whole the incident was a regrettable one, or rather that we should see more in it than a mere incident, a great event which was destined to change the whole aspect of affairs. It was very easy for me to philosophize thus, since I did not share the illusions of my friend Dufaure. The impulse given to the political machine seemed to me to be too violent to permit of the reins of government falling into the hands of the moderate party to which I belonged, and I foresaw that they would soon fall to those who were almost as obnoxious to me as the men from whose hands they had slipped.
I was dining with another of my friends, M. Lanjuinais, of whom I shall have to speak often in future. The company was fairly numerous, and embraced many shades of political opinion. Many of the guests rejoiced at the result of the day’s work, while others expressed alarm; but all thought that the insurrectionary movement would stop of its own accord, to break out again later on another occasion and in another form. All the rumours that reached us from the town seemed to confirm this belief; cries of war were replaced by cries of joy. Portalis, who became Attorney-General of Paris a few days later, was of our number: not the son, but the nephew of the Chief President of the Court of Appeal. This Portalis had neither his uncle’s rare intelligence, nor his exemplary character, nor his solemn dulness. His coarse, violent, perverse mind had quite naturally entered into all the false ideas and extreme opinions of our times. Although he was in relation with most of those who are regarded as the authors and leaders of the Revolution of 1848, I can conscientiously declare that he did not that night expect the revolution any more than we did. I am convinced that, even at that supreme moment, the same might have been said of the greater number of his friends. It would be a waste of time to try to discover what secret conspiracies brought about events of this kind. Revolutions accomplished by means of popular risings are generally longed for beforehand rather than premeditated. Those who boast of having contrived them have done no more than turn them to account. They spring spontaneously into being from a general malady of men’s minds, brought suddenly to the critical stage by some fortuitous and unforeseen circumstance. As to the so-called originators or leaders of these revolutions, they originate and lead nothing; their only merit is identical with that of the adventurers who have discovered most of the unknown countries. They simply have the courage to go straight before them as long as the wind impels them.
I took my leave early, and went straight home to bed. Although I lived close to the Foreign Office, I did not hear the firing which so greatly influenced our destinies, and I fell asleep without realizing that I had seen the last day of the Monarchy of July.
THE 24TH OF FEBRUARY—THE MINISTERS’ PLAN OF RESISTANCE—THE NATIONAL GUARD—GENERAL BEDEAU.
The next morning was the 24th of February. On leaving my bed-room, I met the cook, who had been out; the good woman was quite beside herself, and poured out a sorrowing rigmarole, of which I failed to understand a word, except that the Government was massacring the poor people. I went downstairs at once, and had no sooner set foot in the street than I breathed for the first time the atmosphere of revolution. The roadway was empty; the shops were not open; there were no carriages nor pedestrians to be seen; none of the ordinary hawkers’ cries were heard; neighbours stood talking in little groups at their doors, with subdued voices, with a frightened air; every face seemed distorted with fear or anger. I met a National Guard hurrying along, gun in hand, with a tragic gait; I accosted him, but could learn nothing from him, save that the Government was massacring the people (to which he added that the National Guard would know how to put that right). It was the same old refrain: it is easily understood that this explanation explained nothing. I was too well acquainted with the vices of the Government of July not to know that cruelty was not one of them. I considered it one of the most corrupt, but also one of the least bloodthirsty, that had ever existed, and I only repeat this observation in order to show the sort of report that assists the progress of revolutions.
I hastened to M. de Beaumont, who lived in the next street. There I learnt that the King had sent for him during the night. The same reply was given to my enquiry at M. de Rémusat’s, where I went next. M. de Corcelles, whom I met in the street, gave me his account of what was happening, but in a very confused manner; for, in a city in state of revolution, as on a battle-field, each one readily regards the incidents of which himself is a witness as the events of the day. He told me of the firing on the Boulevard des Capucines, and of the rapid development of the insurrection of which this act of unnecessary violence was the cause or the pretext; of M. Molé’s refusal to take office under these circumstances; and lastly, of the summons to the Palace of Messrs. Thiers, Barrot and their friends, who were definitely charged with the formation of a cabinet, facts too well known to permit of my lingering over them. I asked M. de Corcelles how the ministers proposed to set about appeasing people’s minds.
“M. de Rémusat,” said he, “is my authority for saying that the plan adopted is to withdraw all the troops and to flood Paris with National Guards.” These were his own words.
I have always observed that in politics people were often ruined through possessing too good a memory. The men who were now charged to put an end to the Revolution of 1848 were exactly the same who had made the Revolution of 1830. They remembered that at that time the resistance of the army had failed to stop them, and that on the other hand the presence of the National Guard, so imprudently dissolved by Charles X., might have embarrassed them greatly and prevented them from succeeding. They took the opposite steps to those adopted by the Government of the Elder Branch, and arrived at the same result. So true is it that, if humanity be always the same, the course of history is always different, that the past is not able to teach us much concerning the present, and that those old pictures, when forced into new frames, never have a good effect.
After chatting for a little while on the dangerous position of affairs, M. de Corcelles and I went to fetch M. Lanjuinais, and all three of us went together to M. Dufaure, who lived in the Rue Le Peletier. The boulevard, which we followed to get there, presented a strange spectacle. There was hardly a soul to be seen, although it was nearly nine o’clock in the morning, and one heard not the slightest sound of a human voice; but all the little sentry-boxes which stand along this endless avenue seemed to move about and totter upon their base, and from time to time one of them would fall with a crash, while the great trees along the curb came tumbling down into the roadway as though of their own accord. These acts of destruction were the work of isolated individuals, who went about their business silently, regularly, and hurriedly, preparing in this way the materials for the barricades which others were to erect. Nothing ever seemed to me more to resemble the carrying on of an industry, and, as a matter of fact, for the greater number of these men it was nothing less. The instinct of disorder had given them the taste for it, and their experience of so many former insurrections the practice. I do not know that during the whole course of the day I was so keenly struck as in passing through this solitude in which one saw, so to speak, the worst passions of mankind at play, without the good ones appearing. I would rather have met in the same place a furious crowd; and I remember that, calling Lanjuinais’ attention to those tottering edifices and falling trees, I gave vent to the phrase which had long been on my lips, and said:
“Believe me, this time it is no longer a riot: it is a revolution.”
M. Dufaure told us all that concerned himself in the occurrences of the preceding evening and of the night. M. Molé had at first applied to him to assist him to form the new Cabinet; but the increasing gravity of the situation had soon made them both understand that the moment for their intervention had passed. M. Molé told the King so about midnight, and the King sent him to fetch M. Thiers, who refused to accept office unless he was given M. Barrot for a colleague. Beyond this point, M. Dufaure knew no more than we did. We separated without having succeeded in deciding upon our line of action, and without coming to any resolution beyond that of proceeding to the Chamber so soon as it opened.
M. Dufaure did not come, and I never precisely learnt why. It was certainly not from fear, for I have since seen him very calm and very firm under much more dangerous circumstances. I believe that he grew alarmed for his family, and desired to take them to a place of safety outside Paris. His private and his public virtues, both of which were very great, did not keep step: the first were always ahead of the second, and we shall see signs of this on more than one subsequent occasion. Nor, for that matter, would I care to lay this to his account as a serious charge. Virtues of any kind are too rare to entitle us to vex those who possess them about their character or their degree.
The time which we had spent with M. Dufaure had sufficed to enable the rioters to erect a large number of barricades along the road by which we had come; they were putting the finishing touches to them as we passed on our way back. These barricades were cunningly constructed by a small number of men, who worked very diligently: not like guilty men hurried by the dread of being taken in the act, but like good workmen anxious to get their task done well and expeditiously. The public watched them quietly, without expressing disapproval or offering assistance. I did not discover any signs of that sort of general seething which I had witnessed in 1830, and which made me at the time compare the whole city to a huge boiling caldron. This time the public was not overthrowing the Government; it was allowing it to fall.
We met on the boulevard a column of infantry falling back upon the Madeleine. No one addressed a word to it, and yet its retreat resembled a rout. The ranks were broken, the soldiers marched in disorder, with hanging heads and an air that was both downcast and frightened. Whenever one of them became separated for a mere instant from the main body, he was at once surrounded, seized, embraced, disarmed and sent back: all this was the work of a moment.
Crossing the Place du Havre, I met for the first time a battalion of that National Guard with which Paris was to be flooded. These men marched with a look of astonishment and an uncertain step, surrounded by street boys shouting, “Reform for ever!” to whom they replied with the same cry, but in a smothered and somewhat constrained voice. This battalion belonged to my neighbourhood, and most of those who composed it knew me by sight, although I knew hardly any of them. They surrounded me and greedily pressed me for news; I told them that we had obtained all we wanted, that the ministry was changed, that all the abuses complained of were to be reformed, and that the only danger we now ran was lest people should go too far, and that it was for them to prevent it. I soon saw that this view did not appeal to them.
“That’s all very well, sir,” said they; “the Government has got itself into this scrape through its own fault, let it get out of it as best it can.”
It was of small use my representing to them that it was much less a question for the Government at present than for themselves:
“If Paris is delivered to anarchy,” I said, “and all the Kingdom is in confusion, do you think that none but the King will suffer?”
It was of no avail, and all I could obtain in reply was this astounding absurdity: it was the Government’s fault, let the Government run the danger; we don’t want to get killed for people who have managed their business so badly. And yet this was that middle class which had been pampered for eighteen years: the current of public opinion had ended by dragging it along, and was driving it against those who had flattered it until it had become corrupt.
This was the occasion of a reflection which has often since presented itself to my mind; in France a government always does wrong to rely solely for support upon the exclusive interests and selfish passions of one class. This can only succeed with nations more self-interested and less vain than ours: with us, when a government established upon this basis becomes unpopular, it follows that the members of the very class for whose sake it has lost its popularity prefer the pleasure of traducing it with all the world to the privileges which it assures them. The old French aristocracy, which was more enlightened than our modern middle class and possessed much greater esprit de corps, had already given the same example; it had ended by thinking it a mark of distinction to run down its own privileges, and by thundering against the abuses upon which it existed. That is why I think that, upon the whole, the safest method of government for us to adopt, in order to endure, is that of governing well, of governing in the interest of everybody. I am bound to confess, however, that, even when one follows this course, it is not very certain that one will endure for long.
I soon set out to go to the Chamber, although the time fixed for the opening of the sitting had not yet come: it was, I believe, about eleven o’clock. I found the Place Louis XV still clear of people, but occupied by several regiments of cavalry. When I saw all these troops drawn up in such good order, I began to think that they had only deserted the streets in order to mass themselves around the Tuileries and defend themselves there. At the foot of the obelisk were grouped the staff, among whom, as I drew nearer, I recognized Bedeau, whose unlucky star had quite recently brought him back from Africa, in time to bury the Monarchy. I had spent a few days with him, the year before, at Constantine, and there had sprung up between us a sort of intimacy which has since continued. So soon as Bedeau caught sight of me, he sprang from his horse, came up to me, and grasped my hand in a way that clearly betrayed his excitement. His conversation gave yet stronger evidence of this, and I was not surprised, for I have always observed that the men who lose their heads most easily, and who generally show themselves weakest on days of revolution, are soldiers; accustomed as they are to have an organized force facing them and an obedient force in their hands, they readily become confused before the uproarious shouts of a mob and in presence of the hesitation and the occasional connivance of their own men. Unquestionably, Bedeau was confused, and everybody knows what were the results of this confusion: how the Chamber was invaded by a handful of men within pistol-shot of the squadrons protecting it, and how, in consequence, the fall of the Monarchy was proclaimed and the Provisional Government elected. The part played by Bedeau on this fatal day was, unfortunately for himself, of so preponderating a character that I propose to stop a moment in order to analyze this man and his motives for acting as he did. We have been sufficiently intimate both before and after this event to enable me to speak with knowledge. It is true that he received the order not to fight; but why did he obey so extraordinary an order, which circumstances had rendered so impracticable?
Bedeau was assuredly not timid by nature, nor even, properly speaking, undecided; for, when he had once made up his mind, you saw him making for his goal with great firmness, coolness and courage; but his mind was the most methodical, the least self-reliant, the least adventurous, and the least adapted for unpremeditated action that can well be imagined. He was accustomed to consider the action which he was about to undertake in all its aspects before setting to work, taking the worst aspects first, and losing much precious time in diluting a single thought in a multitude of words. For the rest, he was a just man, moderate, liberal-minded, as humane as though he had not waged war in Africa for eighteen years, modest, moral, even refined, and religious: the kind of honest, virtuous man who is very rarely to be met with in military circles, or, to speak plainly, elsewhere. It was assuredly not from want of courage that he did certain acts which seemed to point to this defect, for he was brave beyond measure; still less was treachery his motive: although he may not have been attached to the Orleans Family, he was as little capable of betraying those Princes as their best friends could have been, and much less so than their creatures eventually were. His misfortune was that he was drawn into events which were greater than himself, and that he had only merit where genius was needed, and especially the genius to grapple with revolutions, which consists principally in regulating one’s actions according to events, and in knowing how to disobey at the right time. The remembrance of February poisoned General Bedeau’s life, and left a cruel wound deep down in his soul, a wound whose agony betrayed itself unceasingly by endless recitals and explanations of the events of that period.
While he was engaged in telling me of his perplexities, and in endeavouring to prove that the duty of the Opposition was to come down to the streets in a body and calm the popular excitement with their speeches, a crowd of people glided in between the trees of the Champs Elysées and came down the main avenue towards the Place Louis XV. Bedeau perceived these men, dragged me towards them on foot until he was more than a hundred paces from his cavalry, and began to harangue them, for he was more disposed to speech-making than any military man I have ever known.
While he was holding forth in this way, I observed that the circle of his listeners was gradually extending itself around us, and would soon close us in; and through the first rank of sightseers I clearly caught sight of men of riotous aspect moving about, while I heard dull murmurs in the depths of the crowd of these dangerous words, “It’s Bugeaud.” I leant towards the general and whispered in his ear:
“I have more experience than you of the ways of the populace; take my word, get back to your horse at once, for if you stay here, you will be killed or taken prisoner before five minutes are over.”
He took my word for it, and it was well he did. A few moments later, these same men whom he had undertaken to convert murdered the occupants of the guard-house in the Rue des Champs-Elysées; I myself had some difficulty in forcing my way through them. One of them, a short, thick-set man, who seemed to belong to the lower class of workmen, asked me where I was going.
I replied, “To the Chamber,” adding, to show that I was a member of the Opposition, “Reform for ever! You know the Guizot Ministry has been dismissed?”
“Yes, sir, I know,” replied the man, jeeringly, and pointing to the Tuileries, “but we want more than that.”
THE SITTING OF THE CHAMBER—MADAME LA DUCHESSE D’ORLÉANS—THE PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT.
I entered the Chamber; the sitting had not yet commenced. The deputies were wandering about the lobbies like men distraught, living on rumours, and quite without information. It was not so much an assembly as a mob, for nobody was leading it.
The leaders of both parties were absent: the ex-ministers had fled, the new ones had not appeared. Members cried loudly for the sitting to open, impelled rather by a vague desire for action than by any definite intention; the President refused: he was accustomed to do nothing without instructions, and since there was no one left to instruct him, he was unable to make up his mind. I was begged to go and find him, and persuade him to take the chair, and I did so. I found this excellent man—for so he was, in spite of the fact that he often indulged in well-meaning pieces of trickery, in little pious frauds, in petty villainies, in all the venial sins which a faint heart and a wavering mind are able to suggest to an honest nature—I found him, as I have said, walking to and fro in his room, a prey to the greatest excitement. M. Sauzet possessed good but not striking features; he had the dignity of a parish beadle, a big fat body, with very short arms. At times when he was restless and perplexed—and he almost always was so—he used to wave his little arms convulsively, and move them about like a swimmer. His demeanour during our conversation was of the strangest: he walked about, stopped still, sat down with one foot underneath his clumsy frame, as he used to do in moments of great excitement, stood up again, sat down anew, and came to no decision. It was very unfortunate for the House of Orleans that it had an honest man of this kind to preside over the Chamber on a day like this: an audacious rogue would have served its turn better.
M. Sauzet gave me many reasons for not opening the sitting, but one which he did not give me convinced me that he was right. Seeing him so helpless and so incapable of adopting any resolution, I considered that he would only confuse men’s minds the more he tried to regulate them. I therefore left him, and thinking it more important to find protectors for the Chamber than to open its deliberations, I went out, intending to proceed to the Ministry of the Interior and ask for help.
As I crossed the Place du Palais-Bourbon with this object, I saw a very mixed crowd accompanying two men, whom I soon recognized as Barrot and Beaumont, with loud cheers. Both of them wore their hats crushed down over their eyes; their clothes were covered with dust, their cheeks looked hollow, their eyes weary: never were two men in triumph so suggestive of men about to be hanged. I ran up to Beaumont, and asked him what was happening. He whispered that the King had abdicated in his presence, and had taken to flight; that Lamoricière had apparently been killed when he went out to announce the abdication to the rioters (in fact, an aide-de-camp had come back to say that he had seen him at a distance fall from his horse), that everything was going wrong, and finally, that he and Barrot were now on their way to the Ministry of the Interior in order to take possession of it, and to try and establish somewhere a centre of authority and resistance.
“And the Chamber!” I said. “Have you taken any precautions for the defence of the Chamber?”
Beaumont received this observation with ill-humour, as though I had been speaking of my own house. “Who is thinking of the Chamber?” he replied brusquely. “What good or what harm can it do at the present juncture?”
I thought, and rightly, that he was wrong to speak like this. The Chamber, it is true, was at that moment in a curious state of powerlessness, its majority despised, and its minority left behind by public opinion. But M. de Beaumont forgot that it is just in times of revolution that the very least instruments of the law, and much more its outer symbols, which recall the idea of the law to the minds of the people, assume the greatest importance; for it is especially in the midst of this universal anarchy and turmoil that the need is felt of some simulacrum of authority and tradition in order to save the remnants of a half-destroyed constitution or to complete its overthrow. Had the deputies been able to proclaim the Regency, the latter might have ended by triumphing, in spite of the unpopularity of the deputies; and, on the other hand, it is an undoubted fact that the Provisional Government owed much to the chance which caused it to come into being between the four walls which had so long sheltered the representatives of the nation.
I followed my friends to the Ministry of the Interior, where they were going. The crowd which accompanied us entered, or rather swept in, tumultuously, and even penetrated with us as far as the room which M. Duchâtel had just quitted. Barrot tried to free himself and dismiss the mob, but was unable to succeed.
These people, who held two very different sets of opinions, as I was then enabled to observe, some being Republicans and others Constitutionalists, began vehemently to discuss with us and among themselves the measures which were to be taken; and as we were all squeezed together in a very small space, the heat, dust, confusion, and uproar soon became unbearable. Barrot, who always launched out into long, pompous phrases at the most critical moments, and who preserved an air of dignity, and even of mystery, in the most ludicrous circumstances, was holding forth at his best in angustis. His voice occasionally rose above the tumult, but never succeeded in quelling it. In despair and disgust at so violent and ludicrous a scene, I left this place, where they were exchanging almost as many cuffs as arguments, and returned to the Chamber.
I reached the entrance to the building without suspecting what was happening inside, when I saw people come running up, crying that Madame la Duchesse d’Orléans, the Comte de Paris and the Duc de Nemours had just arrived. At this news, I flew up the stairs of the Palace, four at a time, and rushed into the House.
I saw the three members of the Royal Family whom I have named, at the foot of the tribune, facing the House. The Duchesse d’Orléans was seated, dressed in mourning, calm and pale; I could see that she was greatly excited, but her excitement seemed to be that of courageous natures, more prone to turn to heroism than fright.
The Comte de Paris displayed the carelessness of his age and the precocious impassiveness of princes. Standing by their side was the Duc de Nemours, tightly clad in his uniform—cold, stiff, and erect. He was, to my mind, the only man who ran any real danger that day; and during the whole time that I saw him exposed to it, I constantly observed in him the same firm and silent courage.
Around these unhappy Princes pressed the National Guards who had come with them, some deputies, and a small number of the people. The galleries were empty and closed, with the exception of the press gallery, into which an unarmed but clamorous crowd had forced its way. I was more struck by the cries that issued at intervals from there than by all else that occurred during the sitting.
Fifty years had passed since the last scene of this kind. Since the time of the Convention, the galleries had been silent, and the silence of the galleries had become part of our parliamentary customs. However, if the Chamber at this moment already felt embarrassed in its actions, it was not as yet in any way constrained; the deputies were in considerable numbers, though the party leaders were still absent. I heard enquiries on every side for M. Thiers and M. Barrot; I did not know what had become of M. Thiers, but I knew only too well what M. Barrot was doing. I hurriedly sent one of our friends to tell him of what was happening, and he came running up with all speed. I can answer for that man that his soul never knew fear.
After for a moment watching this extraordinary sitting, I had hastened to take my usual seat on the upper benches of the Left Centre: it has always been my contention that at critical moments one should not only be present in the assembly of which one is a member, but occupy the place where one is generally to be found.
A sort of confused and turbulent discussion had been opened: I heard M. Lacrosse, who since became my colleague in office, cry amid the uproar:
“M. Dupin wishes to speak!”
“No,” replied M. Dupin, “I made no such request.”
“No matter,” came from every side; “speak, speak!”
Thus urged, M. Dupin ascended the tribune, and proposed in two words that they should return to the law of 1842, and proclaim the Duchesse d’Orléans Regent. This was received with applause in the Assembly, exclamations in the gallery, and murmurs in the lobbies. The lobbies, which at first were pretty clear, began to grow crowded in an alarming manner. The people did not yet come into the Chamber in streams, but entered little by little, one by one; each moment there appeared a new face; the Chamber grew flooded as it were by drops. Most of the new comers belonged to the lowest classes; many of them were armed.
I witnessed this growing invasion from a distance, and I felt the danger momentarily increase with it. I cast my eyes round the Chamber in search of the man best able to resist the torrent; I saw only Lamartine, who had the necessary position and the requisite capacity to make the attempt; I remembered that in 1842 he was the only one who proposed the regency of the Duchesse d’Orléans. On the other hand, his recent speeches, and especially his recent writings, had obtained for him the favour of the people. His talent, moreover, was of a kind that appeals to the popular taste. I was not aware that, half an hour before, he had been extolling the Republic to an assemblage of journalists and deputies in one of the offices of the Chamber. I saw him standing by his bench. I elbowed my way to him, and, when I reached him:
“We shall be lost,” I whispered, hurriedly: “you alone can make yourself heard at this supreme moment; go to the tribune and speak.”
I can see him still, as I write these lines, so struck was I with his appearance. I see his long, straight, slender figure, his eye turned towards the semi-circle, his fixed and vacant gaze absorbed in inward contemplation rather than in observing what was passing around him. When he heard me speak, he did not turn towards me, but only stretched out his arm towards the place where the Princes stood, and, replying to his own thought rather than to mine, said:
“I shall not speak so long as that woman and that child remain where they are.”
I said no more; I had heard enough. Returning to my bench, I passed by the Right Centre, near where Lanjuinais and Billault were sitting, and asked, “Can you suggest nothing that we could do?” They mournfully shook their heads, and I continued on my way.
Meantime, the crowd had accumulated to such an extent in the semi-circle, that the Princes ran the risk of being crushed or suffocated at any moment.
The President made vain efforts to clear the House; failing in his endeavours, he begged the Duchesse d’Orléans to withdraw. The courageous Princess refused, whereupon her friends, with great difficulty, extricated her from the throng, and made her climb to the top bench of the Left Centre, where she sat down with her son and the Duc de Nemours.
Marie and Crémieux had just, amid the silence of the deputies and the acclamations of the people, proposed the establishment of a provisional government, when Barrot at last appeared. He was out of breath, but not alarmed. Climbing the stairs of the tribune:
“Our duty lies before us,” he said; “the Crown of July lies on the head of a child and a woman.”
The Chamber, recovering its courage, plucked up heart to burst into acclamations, and the people in their turn were silent. The Duchesse d’Orléans rose from her seat, seemed to wish to speak, hesitated, listened to timid counsels, and sat down again: the last glimmer of her fortune had gone out. Barrot finished his speech without renewing the impression of his opening words; nevertheless, the Chamber had gathered strength, and the people wavered.
At that moment, the crowd filling the semi-circle was driven back, by a stream from outside, towards the centre benches, which were already almost deserted; it burst and spread over the benches. Of the few deputies who still occupied them, some slipped away and left the House, while others retreated from bench to bench, like victims surprised by the tide, who retreat from rock to rock always pursued by the rising waters. All this commotion was produced by two troops of men, for the most part armed, which marched through the two lobbies, each with officers of the National Guards and flags at its head. The two officers who carried the flags, of whom one, a swaggering individual, was, as I heard later, a half-pay colonel called Dumoulin, ascended the tribune with a theatrical air, waved their standards, and with much skipping about and great melodramatic gestures, bawled out some revolutionary balderdash or other. The President declared the sitting suspended, and proceeded to put on his hat, as is customary; but, since he had the knack of making himself ridiculous in the most tragic situations, in his precipitation he seized the hat of a secretary instead of his own, and pulled it down over his eyes and ears.
Sittings of this sort, as may be believed, are not easily suspended, and the President’s attempts only succeeded in adding to the disorder.
Thenceforth there was nothing but one continuous uproar, broken by occasional moments of silence. The speakers appeared in the tribune in groups: Crémieux, Ledru-Rollin, and Lamartine sprang into it at the same time. Ledru-Rollin drove Crémieux out, and himself held on with his two great hands, while Lamartine, without leaving or struggling, waited for his colleague to finish speaking. Ledru-Rollin began incoherently, interrupted every instant by the impatience of his own friends. “Finish! finish!” cried Berryer, more experienced than he, and warier in his dynastic ill-will than was the other in his republican passion. Ledru-Rollin ended by demanding the appointment of a provisional government and descended the stair.
Then Lamartine stepped forward and obtained silence. He commenced with a splendid eulogium on the courage of the Duchesse d’Orléans, and the people themselves, sensible, as always, to generous sentiments wrapped up in fine phrases, applauded. The deputies breathed again. “Wait,” said I to my neighbours, “this is only the exordium.” And in fact, before long, Lamartine tacked round and proceeded straight in the same direction as Ledru-Rollin.
Until then, as I said, all the galleries except the one reserved for the press had remained empty and closed; but while Lamartine was speaking, loud blows were heard at the door of one of them, and yielding to the strain, the door burst into atoms. In a moment the gallery was invaded by an armed mob of men, who noisily filled it and soon afterwards all the others. A man of the lower orders, placing one foot on the cornice, pointed his gun at the President and the speaker; others seemed to level theirs at the assembly. The Duchesse d’Orléans and her son were hurried out of the Chamber by some devoted friends and into the corridor behind the Chair. The President muttered a few words to the effect that the sitting was adjourned, and stepped, or rather slid, off the platform on which the chair was placed. I saw him passing before my eyes like a shapeless mass: never would I have believed that fear could have inspired with such activity, or rather, suddenly reduced to a sort of fluidity, so huge a body. All who had remained of the Conservative members then dispersed, and the populace sprawled over the centre benches, crying, “Let us take the place of the corrupt crew!”
During all the turbulent scenes which I have just described, I remained motionless in my seat, very attentive, but not greatly excited; and now, when I ask myself why I felt no keener emotion in presence of an event bound to exercise so great an influence upon the destinies of France and upon my own, I find that the form assumed by this great occurrence did much to diminish the impression it made upon me.
In the course of the Revolution of February, I was present at two or three scenes which possessed the elements of grandeur (I shall have occasion to describe them in their turn); but this scene lacked them entirely, for the reason that there was nothing genuine in it. We French, especially in Paris, are prone to introduce our literary or theatrical reminiscences into our most serious demonstrations; this often gives rise to the belief that the sentiments we express are not genuine, whereas they are only clumsily adorned. In this case the imitation was so evident that the terrible originality of the facts remained concealed beneath it. It was a time when every imagination was besmeared with the crude colours with which Lamartine had been daubing his Girondins. The men of the first Revolution were living in every mind, their deeds and words present to every memory. All that I saw that day bore the visible impress of those recollections; it seemed to me throughout as though they were engaged in acting the French Revolution, rather than continuing it.
Despite the presence of drawn swords, bayonets and muskets, I was unable to persuade myself for a single instant not only that I was in danger of death, but that anybody was, and I honestly believe that no one really was. Bloodthirsty hatreds only showed themselves later: they had not yet had the time to spring up; the special spirit which was to characterize the Revolution of February did not yet manifest itself. Meantime, men were fruitlessly endeavouring to warm themselves at the fire of our fathers’ passions, imitating their gestures and attitudes as they had seen them represented on the stage, but unable to imitate their enthusiasm or to be inflamed with their fury. It was the tradition of violent deeds that was being imitated by cold hearts, which understood not the spirit of it. Although I clearly saw that the catastrophe of the piece would be a terrible one, I was never able to take the actors very seriously, and the whole seemed to me like a bad tragedy performed by provincial actors.
I confess that what moved me most that day was the sight of that woman and child, who were made to bear the whole weight of faults that they had not committed. I frequently looked with compassion towards that foreign Princess, thrown into the midst of our civil discords; and when she had fled, the remembrance of the sweet, sad, firm glances which I had seen her cast upon the Assembly during that long agony came back so vividly to my memory, I felt so touched with pity when I thought of the perils attending her flight that, suddenly springing from my seat, I rushed in the direction which my knowledge of the building led me to believe that she and her son would have taken to seek a place of safety. In a moment I made my way through the crowd, crossed the floor, passed out through the cloak-room, and reached the private staircase which leads from the entrance in the Rue de Bourgogne to the upper floor of the Palace. A messenger whom I questioned as I ran past him told me that I was on the track of the Royal party; and, indeed, I heard several persons hurriedly mounting the upper portion of the stairs. I therefore continued my pursuit, and reached a landing; the steps which preceded me had just ceased. Finding a closed door in front of me, I knocked at it, but it was not opened. If princes were like God, who reads our hearts and accepts the intention for the deed, assuredly these would be pleased with me for what I wished to do that day; but they will never know, for no one saw me and I told no one.
I returned to the House and resumed my seat. Almost all the members had left; the benches were occupied by men of the populace. Lamartine was still in the tribune between the two banners, continuing to address the crowd, or rather conversing with them; for there seemed to be almost as many orators as listeners. The confusion was at its height. In a moment of semi-silence, Lamartine began to read out a list containing the names of the different people proposed by I don’t know whom to take share in the Provisional Government that had just been decreed, nobody knows how. Most of these names were accepted with acclamations, some rejected with groans, others received with jests, for in scenes in which the people take part, as in the plays of Shakspeare, burlesque often rubs shoulders with tragedy, and wretched jokes sometimes come to the relief of the ardour of revolution. When Garnier-Pagès’ name was proposed, I heard a voice cry, “You’ve made a mistake, Lamartine; it’s the dead one that’s the good one;” Garnier-Pagès having had a celebrated brother, to whom he bore no resemblance except in name.
M. de Lamartine, I think, was beginning to grow greatly embarrassed at his position; for in a rebellion, as in a novel, the most difficult part to invent is the end. When, therefore, someone took it into his head to cry, “To the Hôtel de Ville!” Lamartine echoed, “Yes, to the Hôtel de Ville,” and went out forthwith, taking half the crowd with him; the others remained with Ledru-Rollin, who, in order, I suppose, to retain a leading part for himself, felt called upon in his turn to go through the same mock election, after which he too set out for the Hôtel de Ville. There the same electoral display was gone through once more; in connection with which I cannot refrain from repeating an anecdote which I was told, a few months later, by M. Marrast. It interrupts the thread of my story a little, but it gives a marvellous picture of two men who were both at that moment playing a great part, and shows the difference, if not in their opinions, at least in their education and habits of thought.
“A list of candidates for the Provisional Government,” said Marrast, “had hurriedly been drawn up. It had to be read out to the people, and I handed it to Lamartine, asking him to read it aloud from the top of the steps. ‘I can’t,’ replied Lamartine, after looking at it; ‘my name is on it.’ I then passed it on to Crémieux, who, after reading it, said, ‘You’re making fun of me: you’re asking me to read out to the people a list which has not got my name on it!’ ”
When I saw Ledru-Rollin leave the House, where remained behind none but the sheer dregs of the insurrection, I saw that there was nothing more to be done there. I accordingly went away, but as I did not care to find myself in the middle of the mob marching towards the Hôtel de Ville, I took the opposite direction, and began to go down those steep steps, like cellar stairs, which lead to the inner yard of the Palace. I then saw coming towards me a column of armed National Guards, ascending the same staircase at a run, with set bayonets. In front of them were two men in civilian dress, who seemed to be leading them, shouting at the top of their voices, “Long live the Duchesse d’Orléans and the Regency!” In one I recognized General Oudinot and in the other Andryane, who was imprisoned in the Spielberg, and who wrote his Memoirs in imitation of those of Silvio Pellico. I saw no one else, and nothing could prove more clearly how difficult it is for the public ever to learn the truth of events happening amid the tumult of a revolution. I know that a letter exists, written by Marshal Bugeaud, in which he relates that he succeeded in getting together a few companies of the Tenth Legion, inspired them in favour of the Duchesse d’Orléans, and led them at the double through the yard of the Palais Bourbon and to the door of the Chamber, which he found empty. The story is true, but for the presence of the marshal, whom I should most certainly have seen had he been there; but there was no one, I repeat, except General Oudinot and M. Andryane. The latter, seeing me standing still and saying nothing, took me sharply by the arm, exclaiming:
“Monsieur, you must join us, to help to free Madame la Duchesse d’Orléans and save the Monarchy.”
“Monsieur,” I replied, “your intention is good, but you are too late: the Duchesse d’Orléans has disappeared, and the Chamber has risen.”
Now, where was the spirited defender of the Monarchy that evening? The incident is worthy of being told and noted among the many incidents of versatility with which the history of revolutions abounds.
M. Andryane was in the office of M. Ledru-Rollin, officiating in the name of the Republic as general secretary to the Ministry of the Interior.
To return to the column which he was leading: I joined it, although I had no longer any hope of success for its efforts. Mechanically obeying the impulse communicated to it, it proceeded as far as the doors of the Chamber. There the men who composed it learnt what had taken place; they turned about for a moment, and then dispersed in every direction. Half an hour earlier, this handful of National Guards might (as on the ensuing 15th of May) have changed the fortunes of France. I allowed this new crowd to pass by me, and then, alone and very pensive, I resumed my road home, not without casting a last look on the Chamber, now silent and deserted, in which, during nine years, I had listened to the sound of so many eloquent and futile words.
M. Billault, who had left the Chamber a few minutes before me by the entrance in the Rue de Bourgogne, told me that he met M. Barrot in this street.
“He was walking,” he said, “at a rapid rate, without perceiving that he was hatless, and that his grey hair, which he generally carefully brushed back along his temples, was falling on either side and fluttering in disorder over his shoulders; he seemed beside himself.”
This man had made heroic efforts all day long to maintain the Monarchy on the declivity down which he himself had pushed it, and he remained as though crushed beneath its fall. I learned from Beaumont, who had not left him during any part of the day, that in the morning M. Barrot faced and mounted twenty barricades, walking up to each unarmed, meeting sometimes with insults, often with shots, and always ending by overcoming with his words those who guarded them. His words, in fact, were all-powerful with the multitude. He had all that was wanted to act upon them at a given moment: a strong voice, an inflated eloquence, and a fearless heart.
While M. Barrot, in disorder, was leaving the Chamber, M. Thiers, still more distraught, wandered round Paris, not daring to venture home. He was seen for an instant at the Assembly before the arrival of the Duchesse d’Orléans, but disappeared at once, giving the signal for the retreat of many others. The next morning, I learnt the details of his flight through M. Talabot, who had assisted in it. I was connected with M. Talabot by fairly intimate party ties, and M. Thiers, I believe, by former business relations. M. Talabot was a man full of mental vigour and resolution, very fit for an emergency of that kind. He told me as follows—I believe I have neither omitted nor added anything:
“It seems,” he said, “that M. Thiers, when crossing the Place Louis XV, had been insulted and threatened by some of the populace. He was greatly excited and upset when I saw him enter the House; he came up to me, led me aside, and told me that he would be murdered by the mob if I did not assist him to escape. I took him by the arm and begged him to go with me and fear nothing. M. Thiers wished to avoid the Pont Louis XVI, for fear of meeting the crowd. We went to the Pont des Invalides, but when we got there, he thought he saw a gathering on the other side of the river, and again refused to cross. We then made for the Pont d’Iéna, which was free, and crossed it without any difficulty. When we reached the other side, M. Thiers discovered some street-boys, shouting, on the foundations of what was to have been the palace of the King of Rome, and forthwith turned down the Rue d’Auteuil and made for the Bois de Boulogne. There we had the good luck to find a cabman, who consented to drive us along the outer boulevards to the neighbourhood of the Barrière de Clichy, through which we were able to reach his house. During the whole journey,” added M. Talabot, “and especially at the start, M. Thiers seemed almost out of his senses, gesticulating, sobbing, uttering incoherent phrases. The catastrophe he had just beheld, the future of his country, his own personal danger, all contributed to form a chaos amid which his thoughts struggled and strayed unceasingly.”
“Mener mon fiacre”: to drive my hackney-coach.—A. T. de M.
This speech was delivered in the Chamber of Deputies on the 27th of January 1848, in the debate on the Address in reply to the Speech from the Throne.—Cte. de T.
See the speech of M. Duvergier de Hauranne, 7 February 1848.—Cte. de T.
The minister replied to M. Léon de Mandeville. He quoted the laws of 1790 and 1791, which empowered the authorities to oppose any public meetings which seemed to threaten danger to the public peace, and he declared that the Government would be failing in its duty if it were to give way before manifestations of any description. At the end of his speech he again brought in the phrase “blind or hostile passions,” and endeavoured to justify it.—Cte. de T.
Replying to M. Odilon Barrot, M. Hébert maintained that, since the right of public meeting was not laid down in the Charter, it did not exist.—Cte. de T.
M. Sallandrouze de Lamornaix’ amendment proposed to modify the expression “blind or hostile passions,” by adding the words: “Amid these various demonstrations, your Government will know how to recognise the real and lawful desires of the country; it will, we trust, take the initiative by introducing certain wise and moderate reforms called for by public opinion, among which we must place first parliamentary reform. In a Constitutional Monarchy, the union of the great powers of the State removes all danger from a progressive policy, and allows every moral and material interest of the country to be satisfied.”—Cte. de T.