Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER V: THE SITTING OF THE CHAMBER—MADAME LA DUCHESSE D'ORLÉANS—THE PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT. - The Recollections of Alexis de Tocqueville
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CHAPTER V: THE SITTING OF THE CHAMBER—MADAME LA DUCHESSE D’ORLÉANS—THE PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT. - 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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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.”
PART THE SECOND
Everything contained in this note-book (Chapters I. to XI. inclusive) was written in stray moments at Sorrento, in November and December 1850, and January, February, and March 1851.