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PART THE SECOND - 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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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.
MY EXPLANATION OF THE 24TH OF FEBRUARY, AND MY VIEWS AS TO ITS EFFECTS UPON THE FUTURE.
And so the Monarchy of July was fallen, fallen without a struggle, and before rather than beneath the blows of the victors, who were as astonished at their triumph as were the vanquished at their defeat. I have often, since the Revolution of February, heard M. Guizot and even M. Molé and M. Thiers declare that this event should only be attributed to a surprise and regarded as a mere accident, a bold and lucky stroke and nothing more. I have always felt tempted to answer them in the words which Moliere’s Misanthrope uses to Oronte:
Pour en juger ainsi, vous avez vos raisons;
for these three men had conducted the affairs of France, under the guidance of King Louis-Philippe, during eighteen years, and it was difficult for them to admit that it was the King’s bad government which had prepared the catastrophe which hurled him from the Throne.
As for me, I have not the same motives for forming an opinion, and I could hardly persuade myself to be of theirs. I am not prepared to say that accidents played no part in the Revolution of February: on the contrary, they played a great one; but they were not the only thing.
I have come across men of letters, who have written history without taking part in public affairs, and politicians, who have only concerned themselves with producing events without thinking of describing them. I have observed that the first are always inclined to find general causes, whereas the others, living in the midst of disconnected daily facts, are prone to imagine that everything is attributable to particular incidents, and that the wires which they pull are the same that move the world. It is to be presumed that both are equally deceived.
For my part, I detest these absolute systems, which represent all the events of history as depending upon great first causes linked by the chain of fatality, and which, as it were, suppress men from the history of the human race. They seem narrow, to my mind, under their pretence of broadness, and false beneath their air of mathematical exactness. I believe (pace the writers who have invented these sublime theories in order to feed their vanity and facilitate their work) that many important historical facts can only be explained by accidental circumstances, and that many others remain totally inexplicable. Moreover, chance, or rather that tangle of secondary causes which we call chance, for want of the knowledge how to unravel it, plays a great part in all that happens on the world’s stage; although I firmly believe that chance does nothing that has not been prepared beforehand. Antecedent facts, the nature of institutions, the cast of minds and the state of morals are the materials of which are composed those impromptus which astonish and alarm us.
The Revolution of February, in common with all other great events of this class, sprang from general causes, impregnated, if I am permitted the expression, by accidents; and it would be as superficial a judgment to ascribe it necessarily to the former or exclusively to the latter.
The industrial revolution which, during the past thirty years, had turned Paris into the principal manufacturing city of France and attracted within its walls an entire new population of workmen (to whom the works of the fortifications had added another population of labourers at present deprived of work) tended more and more to inflame this multitude. Add to this the democratic disease of envy, which was silently permeating it; the economical and political theories which were beginning to make their way and which strove to prove that human misery was the work of laws and not of Providence, and that poverty could be suppressed by changing the conditions of society; the contempt into which the governing class, and especially the men who led it, had fallen, a contempt so general and so profound that it paralyzed the resistance even of those who were most interested in maintaining the power that was being overthrown; the centralization which reduced the whole revolutionary movement to the overmastering of Paris and the seizing of the machinery of government; and lastly, the mobility of all things, institutions, ideas, men and customs, in a fluctuating state of society which had, in less than sixty years, undergone the shock of seven great revolutions, without numbering a multitude of smaller, secondary upheavals. These were the general causes without which the Revolution of February would have been impossible. The principal accidents which led to it were the passions of the dynastic Opposition, which brought about a riot in proposing a reform; the suppression of this riot, first over-violent, and then abandoned; the sudden disappearance of the old Ministry, unexpectedly snapping the threads of power, which the new ministers, in their confusion, were unable either to seize upon or to reunite; the mistakes and disorder of mind of these ministers, so powerless to re-establish that which they had been strong enough to overthrow; the vacillation of the generals; the absence of the only Princes who possessed either personal energy or popularity; and above all, the senile imbecility of King Louis-Philippe, his weakness, which no one could have foreseen, and which still remains almost incredible, after the event has proved it.
I have sometimes asked myself what could have produced this sudden and unprecedented depression in the King’s mind. Louis-Philippe had spent his life in the midst of revolutions, and certainly lacked neither experience, courage, nor readiness of mind, although these qualities all failed him so completely on that day. In my opinion, his weakness was due to his excessive surprise; he was overwhelmed with consternation before he had grasped the meaning of things. The Revolution of February was unforeseen by all, but by him more than any other; he had been prepared for it by no warning from the outside, for since many years his mind had withdrawn into that sort of haughty solitude into which in the end the intellect almost always settles down of princes who have long lived happily, and who, mistaking luck for genius, refuse to listen to anything, because they think that there is nothing left for them to learn from anybody. Besides, Louis-Philippe had been deceived, as I have already said that his ministers were, by the misleading light cast by antecedent facts upon present times. One might draw a strange picture of all the errors which have thus been begotten, one by the other, without resembling each other. We see Charles I. driven to tyranny and violence at the sight of the progress which the spirit of opposition had made in England during the gentle reign of his father; Louis XVI. determined to suffer everything because Charles I. had perished by refusing to endure anything; Charles X. provoking the Revolution, because he had with his own eyes beheld the weakness of Louis XVI.; and lastly, Louis-Philippe, who had more perspicacity than any of them, imagining that, in order to remain on the Throne, all he had to do was to observe the letter of the law while violating its spirit, and that, provided he himself kept within the bounds of the Charter, the nation would never exceed them. To warp the spirit of the Constitution without changing the letter; to set the vices of the country in opposition to each other; gently to drown revolutionary passion in the love of material enjoyment: such was the idea of his whole life. Little by little, it had become, not his leading, but his sole idea. He had wrapped himself in it, he had lived in it; and when he suddenly saw that it was a false idea, he became like a man who is awakened in the night by an earthquake, and who, feeling his house crumbling in the darkness, and the very ground seeming to yawn beneath his feet, remains distracted amid this unforeseen and universal ruin.
I am arguing very much at my ease to-day concerning the causes that brought about the events of the 24th of February; but on the afternoon of that day I had many other things in my head: I was thinking of the events themselves, and sought less for what had produced them than for what was to follow.
I returned slowly home. I explained in a few words to Madame de Tocqueville what I had seen, and sat down in a corner to think. I cannot remember ever feeling my soul so full of sadness. It was the second revolution I had seen accomplish itself, before my eyes, within seventeen years!
On the 30th of July 1830, at daybreak, I had met the carriages of King Charles X. on the outer boulevards of Versailles, with damaged escutcheons, proceeding at a foot pace, in Indian file, like a funeral, and I was unable to restrain my tears at the sight. This time my impressions were of another kind, but even keener. Both revolutions had afflicted me; but how much more bitter were the impressions caused by the last! I had until the end felt a remnant of hereditary affection for Charles X.; but that King fell for having violated rights that were dear to me, and I had every hope that my country’s freedom would be revived rather than extinguished by his fall. But now this freedom seemed dead; the Princes who were fleeing were nothing to me, but I felt that the cause I had at heart was lost.
I had spent the best days of my youth amid a society which seemed to increase in greatness and prosperity as it increased in liberty; I had conceived the idea of a balanced, regulated liberty, held in check by religion, custom and law; the attractions of this liberty had touched me; it had become the passion of my life; I felt that I could never be consoled for its loss, and that I must renounce all hope of its recovery.
I had gained too much experience of mankind to be able to content myself with empty words; I knew that, if one great revolution is able to establish liberty in a country, a number of succeeding revolutions make all regular liberty impossible for very many years.
I could not yet know what would issue from this last revolution, but I was already convinced that it could give birth to nothing that would satisfy me; and I foresaw that, whatever might be the lot reserved for our posterity, our own fate was to drag on our lives miserably amid alternate reactions of licence and oppression.
I began to pass in review the history of our last sixty years, and I smiled bitterly when I thought of the illusions formed at the conclusion of each period in this long revolution; the theories on which these illusions had been fed; the sapient dreams of our historians, and all the ingenious and deceptive systems by the aid of which it had been endeavoured to explain a present which was still incorrectly seen, and a future which was not seen at all.
The Constitutional Monarchy had succeeded the Ancien Régime; the Republic, the Monarchy; the Empire, the Republic; the Restoration, the Empire; and then came the Monarchy of July. After each of these successive changes it was said that the French Revolution, having accomplished what was presumptuously called its work, was finished; this had been said and it had been believed. Alas! I myself had hoped it under the Restoration, and again after the fall of the Government of the Restoration; and here is the French Revolution beginning over again, for it is still the same one. As we go on, its end seems farther off and shrouded in greater darkness. Shall we ever—as we are assured by other prophets, perhaps as delusive as their predecessors—shall we ever attain a more complete and more far-reaching social transformation than our fathers foresaw and desired, and than we ourselves are able to foresee; or are we not destined simply to end in a condition of intermittent anarchy, the well-known chronic and incurable complaint of old races? As for me, I am unable to say; I do not know when this long voyage will be ended; I am weary of seeing the shore in each successive mirage, and I often ask myself whether the terra firma we are seeking does really exist, and whether we are not doomed to rove upon the seas for ever.
I spent the rest of the day with Ampère, who was my colleague at the Institute, and one of my best friends. He came to discover what had become of me in the affray, and to ask himself to dinner. I wished at first to relieve myself by making him share my vexation; but I soon perceived that his impression was not the same as mine, and that he looked differently upon the revolution which was in progress. Ampère was a man of intelligence and, better still, a man full of heart, gentle in manner, and reliable. His good-nature caused him to be liked; and he was popular because of his versatile, witty, amusing, good-humoured conversation, in which he made many remarks that were at once entertaining and agreeable to hear, but too shallow to remember. Unfortunately, he was inclined to carry the esprit of the salons into literature and the esprit of literature into politics. What I call literary esprit in politics consists in seeking for what is novel and ingenious rather than for what is true; in preferring the showy to the useful; in showing one’s self very sensible to the playing and elocution of the actors, without regard to the results of the play; and, lastly, in judging by impressions rather than reasons. I need not say that this eccentricity exists among others besides Academicians. To tell the truth, the whole nation is a little inclined that way, and the French Public very often takes a man-of-letters’ view of politics. Ampère held the fallen Government in great contempt, and its last actions had irritated him greatly. Moreover, he had witnessed many instances of courage, disinterestedness, and even generosity among the insurgents; and he had been bitten by the popular excitement.
I saw that he not only did not enter into my view, but that he was disposed to take quite an opposite one. Seeing this, I was suddenly impelled to turn against Ampère all the feelings of indignation, grief and anger that had been accumulating in my heart since the morning; and I spoke to him with a violence of language which I have often since recalled with a certain shame, and which none but a friendship so sincere as his could have excused. I remember saying to him, inter alia:
“You understand nothing of what is happening; you are judging like a poet or a Paris cockney. You call this the triumph of liberty, when it is its final defeat. I tell you that the people which you so artlessly admire has just succeeded in proving that it is unfit and unworthy to live a life of freedom. Show me what experience has taught it! Where are the new virtues it has gained, the old vices it has laid aside? No, I tell you, it is always the same, as impatient, as thoughtless, as contemptuous of law and order, as easily led and as cowardly in the presence of danger as its fathers were before it. Time has altered it in no way, and has left it as frivolous in serious matters as it used to be in trifles.”
After much vociferation we both ended by appealing to the future, that enlightened and upright judge who always, alas! arrives too late.
PARIS ON THE MORROW OF THE 24TH OF FEBRUARY AND THE NEXT DAYS—THE SOCIALISTIC CHARACTER OF THE NEW REVOLUTION.
The night passed without accidents, although not until the morning did the streets cease to resound with cries and gun-shots; but these were sounds of triumph, not of combat. So soon as it was light, I went out to observe the appearance of the town, and to discover what had become of my two young nephews,1 who were being educated at the Little Seminary. The Little Seminary was in the Rue de Madame, at the back of the Luxembourg, so that I had to cross a great part of the town to reach it.
I found the streets quiet, and even half deserted, as they usually are in Paris on a Sunday morning, when the rich are still asleep and the poor are resting. From time to time, along the walls, one met the victors of the preceding day; but they were filled with wine rather than political ardour, and were, for the most part, making for their homes without taking heed of the passers-by. A few shops were open, and one caught sight of the frightened, but still more astonished, shopkeepers, who reminded one of spectators witnessing the end of a play which they did not quite understand. What one saw most of in the streets deserted by the people, was soldiers; some walking singly, others in little groups, all unarmed, and crossing the city on their roads home. The defeat these men had just sustained had left a very vivid and lasting impression of shame and anger upon them. This was noticed later, but was not apparent at the time: the pleasure of finding themselves at liberty seemed to absorb every other feeling in these lads; they walked with a careless air, with a light and easy gait.
The Little Seminary had not been attacked nor even insulted. My nephews, however, were not there; they had been sent home the evening before to their maternal grandmother. Accordingly, I turned back, taking the Rue du Bac, to find out what had become of Lamoricière, who was then living in that street; and it was only after recognizing me that the servants admitted that their master was at home, and consented to take me to him.
I found this singular person, whom I shall have occasion to mention more than once, stretched upon his bed, and reduced to a state of immobility very much opposed to his character or taste. His head was half broken open; his arms pierced with bayonet-thrusts; all his limbs bruised and powerless. For the rest, he was the same as ever, with his bright intelligence and his indomitable heart. He told me of all that happened to him the day before, and of the thousand dangers which he had only escaped by miracle. I strongly advised him to rest until he was cured, and even long after, so as not uselessly to endanger his person and his reputation in the chaos about to ensue: good advice, undoubtedly, to give to a man so enamoured of action and so accustomed to act that, after doing what is necessary and useful, he is always ready to undertake the injurious and dangerous, rather than do nothing; but no more effective than all those counsels which go against nature.
I spent the whole afternoon in walking about Paris. Two things in particular struck me: the first was, I will not say the mainly, but the uniquely and exclusively popular character of the revolution that had just taken place; the omnipotence it had given to the people properly so-called—that is to say, the classes who work with their hands—over all others. The second was the comparative absence of malignant passion, or, as a matter of fact, of any keen passion—an absence which at once made it clear that the lower orders had suddenly become masters of Paris.
Although the working classes had often played the leading part in the events of the First Revolution, they had never been the sole leaders and masters of the State, either de facto or de jure; it is doubtful whether the Convention contained a single man of the people; it was composed of bourgeois and men of letters. The war between the Mountain and the Girondists was conducted on both sides by members of the middle class, and the triumph of the former never brought power down into the hands of the people alone. The Revolution of July was effected by the people, but the middle class had stirred it up and led it, and secured the principal fruits of it. The Revolution of February, on the contrary, seemed to be made entirely outside the bourgeoisie and against it.
In this great concussion, the two parties of which the social body in France is mainly composed had, in a way, been thrown more completely asunder, and the mass of the people, which had stood alone, remained in sole possession of power. Nothing more novel had been known in our annals. Similar revolutions had taken place, it is true, in other countries and other days; for the history of our own times, however new and unexpected it may seem, always belongs at bottom to the old history of humanity, and what we call new facts are oftenest nothing more than facts forgotten. Florence, in particular, towards the close of the middle ages, had presented on a small scale a spectacle analogous to ours; the noble classes had first been succeeded by the burgher classes, and then one day the latter were, in their turn, expelled from the government, and a gonfalonier was seen marching barefoot at the head of the people, and thus leading the Republic. But in Florence this popular revolution was the result of transient and special causes, while with us it was brought about by causes very permanent and of a kind so general that, after stirring up France, it was to be expected that it would excite all the rest of Europe. This time it was not only a question of the triumph of a party; the aim was to establish a social science, a philosophy, I might almost say a religion, fit to be learned and followed by all mankind. This was the really new portion of the old picture.
Throughout this day, I did not see in Paris a single one of the former agents of the public authority: not a soldier, not a gendarme, not a policeman; the National Guard itself had disappeared. The people alone bore arms, guarded the public buildings, watched, gave orders, punished; it was an extraordinary and terrible thing to see in the sole hands of those who possessed nothing all this immense town, so full of riches, or rather this great nation: for, thanks to centralization, he who reigns in Paris governs France. Hence the affright of all the other classes was extreme; I doubt whether at any period of the Revolution it had been so great, and I should say that it was only to be compared to that which the civilized cities of the Roman Empire must have experienced when they suddenly found themselves in the power of the Goths and Vandals. As nothing like this had ever been seen before, many people expected acts of unexampled violence. For my part I did not once partake of these fears. What I saw led me to predict strange disturbances in the near future—singular crises. But I never believed that the rich would be pillaged; I knew the men of the people in Paris too well not to know that their first movements in times of revolution are usually generous, and that they are best pleased to spend the days immediately following their triumph in boasting of their victory, laying down the law, and playing at being great men. During that time it generally happens that some government or other is set up, the police returns to its post, and the judge to his bench; and when at last our great men consent to step down to the better known and more vulgar ground of petty and malicious human passion, they are no longer able to do so, and are reduced to live simply like honest men. Besides, we have spent so many years in insurrections that there has arisen among us a kind of morality peculiar to times of disorder, and a special code for days of rebellion. According to these exceptional laws, murder is tolerated and havoc permitted, but theft is strenuously forbidden; although this, whatever one may say, does not prevent a good deal of robbery from occurring upon those days, for the simple reason that society in a state of rebellion cannot be different from that at any other time, and it will always contain a number of rascals who, as far as they are concerned, scorn the morality of the main body, and despise its point of honour when they are unobserved. What reassured me still more was the reflection that the victors had been as much surprised by success as their adversaries were by defeat: their passions had not had time to take fire and become intensified in the struggle; the Government had fallen undefended by others, or even by itself. It had long been attacked, or at least keenly censured, by the very men who at heart most deeply regretted its fall.
For a year past the dynastic Opposition and the republican Opposition had been living in fallacious intimacy, acting in the same way from different motives. The misunderstanding which had facilitated the revolution tended to mitigate its after effects. Now that the Monarchy had disappeared, the battle-field seemed empty; the people no longer clearly saw what enemies remained for them to pursue and strike down; the former objects of their anger, themselves, were no longer there; the clergy had never been completely reconciled to the new dynasty, and witnessed its ruin without regret; the old nobility were delighted at it, whatever the ultimate consequences might be: the first had suffered through the system of intolerance of the middle classes, the second through their pride: both either despised or feared their government.
For the first time in sixty years, the priests, the old aristocracy and the people met in a common sentiment—a feeling of revenge, it is true, and not of affection; but even that is a great thing in politics, where a community of hatred is almost always the foundation of friendships. The real, the only vanquished were the middle class; but even this had little to fear. Its reign had been exclusive rather than oppressive; corrupt, but not violent; it was despised rather than hated. Moreover, the middle class never forms a compact body in the heart of the nation, a part very distinct from the whole; it always participates a little with all the others, and in some places merges into them. This absence of homogeneity and of exact limits makes the government of the middle class weak and uncertain, but it also makes it intangible, and, as it were, invisible to those who desire to strike it when it is no longer governing.
From all these united causes proceeded that languor of the people which had struck me as much as its omnipotence, a languor which was the more discernible, in that it contrasted strangely with the turgid energy of the language used and the terrible recollections which it evoked. The lukewarm passions of the time were made to speak in the bombastic periods of ’93, and one heard cited at every moment the name and example of the illustrious ruffians whom no one possessed either the energy or even a sincere desire to resemble.
It was the Socialistic theories which I have already described as the philosophy of the Revolution of February that later kindled genuine passion, embittered jealousy, and ended by stirring up war between the classes. If the actions at the commencement were less disorderly than might have been feared, on the very morrow of the Revolution there was displayed an extraordinary agitation, an unequalled disorder, in the ideas of the people.
From the 25th of February onwards, a thousand strange systems came issuing pell-mell from the minds of innovators, and spread among the troubled minds of the crowd. Everything still remained standing except Royalty and Parliament; yet it seemed as though the shock of the Revolution had reduced society itself to dust, and as though a competition had been opened for the new form that was to be given to the edifice about to be erected in its place. Everyone came forward with a plan of his own: this one printed it in the papers, that other on the placards with which the walls were soon covered, a third proclaimed his loud-mouthed in the open air. One aimed at destroying inequality of fortune, another inequality of education, a third undertook to do away with the oldest of all inequalities, that between man and woman. Specifics were offered against poverty, and remedies for the disease of work which has tortured humanity since the first days of its existence.
These theories were of very varied natures, often opposed and sometimes hostile to one another; but all of them, aiming lower than the government and striving to reach society itself, on which government rests, adopted the common name of Socialism.
Socialism will always remain the essential characteristic and the most redoubtable remembrance of the Revolution of February. The Republic will only appear to the on-looker to have come upon the scene as a means, not as an end.
It does not come within the scope of these Recollections that I should seek for the causes which gave a socialistic character to the Revolution of February, and I will content myself with saying that the discovery of this new facet of the French Revolution was not of a nature to cause so great surprise as it did. Had it not long been perceived that the people had continually been improving and raising its condition, that its importance, its education, its desires, its power had been constantly increasing? Its prosperity had also grown greater, but less rapidly, and was approaching the limit which it hardly ever passes in old societies, where there are many men and but few places. How should the poor and humbler and yet powerful classes not have dreamt of issuing from their poverty and inferiority by means of their power, especially in an epoch when our view into another world has become dimmer, and the miseries of this world become more visible and seem more intolerable? They had been working to this end for the last sixty years. The people had first endeavoured to help itself by changing every political institution, but after each change it found that its lot was in no way improved, or was only improving with a slowness quite incompatible with the eagerness of its desire. Inevitably, it must sooner or later discover that that which held it fixed in its position was not the constitution of the government but the unalterable laws that constitute society itself; and it was natural that it should be brought to ask itself if it had not both the power and the right to alter those laws, as it had altered all the rest. And to speak more specially of property, which is, as it were, the foundation of our social order—all the privileges which covered it and which, so to speak, concealed the privilege of property having been destroyed, and the latter remaining the principal obstacle to equality among men, and appearing to be the only sign of inequality—was it not necessary, I will not say that it should be abolished in its turn, but at least that the thought of abolishing it should occur to the minds of those who did not enjoy it?
This natural restlessness in the minds of the people, this inevitable perturbation of its thoughts and its desires, these needs, these instincts of the crowd formed in a certain sense the fabric upon which the political innovators embroidered so many monstrous and grotesque figures. Their work may be regarded as ludicrous, but the material on which they worked is the most serious that it is possible for philosophers and statesmen to contemplate.
Will Socialism remain buried in the disdain with which the Socialists of 1848 are so justly covered? I put the question without making any reply. I do not doubt that the laws concerning the constitution of our modern society will in the long run undergo modification: they have already done so in many of their principal parts. But will they ever be destroyed and replaced by others? It seems to me to be impracticable. I say no more, because—the more I study the former condition of the world and see the world of our own day in greater detail, the more I consider the prodigious variety to be met with not only in laws, but in the principles of law, and the different forms even now taken and retained, whatever one may say, by the rights of property on this earth—the more I am tempted to believe that what we call necessary institutions are often no more than institutions to which we have grown accustomed, and that in matters of social constitution the field of possibilities is much more extensive than men living in their various societies are ready to imagine.
VACILLATION OF THE MEMBERS OF THE OLD PARLIAMENT AS TO THE ATTITUDE THEY SHOULD ADOPT—MY OWN REFLECTIONS ON MY MODE OF ACTION, AND MY RESOLVES.
During the days immediately following upon the 24th of February, I neither went in search of nor fell in with any of the politicians from whom the events of that day had separated me. I felt no necessity nor, to tell the truth, any inclination to do so. I felt a sort of instinctive repugnance to remembering this wretched parliamentary world, in which I had spent six years of my life, and in whose midst I had seen the Revolution sprouting up.
Moreover, at that time I saw the great vanity of any sort of political conversation or combination. However feeble the reasons may have been which first imparted the movement to the mob, that movement had now become irresistible. I felt that we were all in the midst of one of those great floods of democracy in which the embankments, intended to resist individuals and even parties, only serve to drown those who build them, and in which, for a time, there is nothing to be done but to study the general character of the phenomenon. I therefore spent all my time in the streets with the victors, as though I had been a worshipper of fortune. True, I paid no homage to the new sovereign, and asked no favours of it. I did not even address it, but contented myself with listening to and observing it.
Nevertheless, after the lapse of some days, I resumed relations with the vanquished: I once more met ex-deputies, ex-peers, men of letters, men of business and finance, land-owners, all who in the language of the moment were commencing to be known as the idle. I found that the aspect of the Revolution was no less extraordinary when thus seen from above than it had seemed to me when, at the commencement, I viewed it from below. I encountered much fear, but as little genuine passion as I had seen in other quarters; a curious feeling of resignation, no vestige of hope, and I should almost say no idea of ever returning to the Government which they had only just left. Although the Revolution of February was the shortest and the least bloody of all our revolutions, it had filled men’s minds and hearts with the idea of its omnipotence to a much greater extent than any of its predecessors. I believe this was, to a great extent, due to the fact that these minds and hearts were void of political faith and ardour, and that, after so many disappointments and vain agitations, they retained nothing but a taste for comfort—a very tenacious and very exclusive, but also a very agreeable feeling, which easily accommodates itself to any form of government, provided it be allowed to satisfy itself.
I beheld, therefore, an universal endeavour to make the best of the new state of things and to win over the new master. The great landlords were glad to remember that they had always been hostile to the middle class and always favoured the people; the bourgeois themselves remembered with a certain pride that their fathers had been working men, and when they were unable, owing to the inevitable obscurity of their pedigrees, to trace back their descent to a labourer who had worked with his hands, they at least strove to discover a plebeian ancestor who had been the architect of his own fortune. They took as great pains to make a display of the latter as, not long before, they would have taken to conceal his existence: so true is it that human vanity, without changing its nature, can show itself under the most diverse aspects. It has an obverse and a reverse side, but it is always the same medal.
As there was no longer any genuine feeling left save that of fear, far from breaking with those of his relations who had thrown themselves into the Revolution, each strove to draw closer to them. The time had come to try and turn to account any scapegrace whom one had in one’s family. If good luck would have it that one had a cousin, a brother, or a son who had become ruined by his disorderly life, one could be sure that he was in a fair way to succeed; and if he had become known by the promulgation of some extravagant theory or other, he might hope to attain to any height. Most of the commissaries and under-commissaries of the Government were men of this type.
As to King Louis-Philippe, there was no more question of him than if he had belonged to the Merovingian Dynasty. Nothing struck me more than the absolute silence that had suddenly surrounded his name. I did not hear it pronounced a single time, so to speak, either by the people or by the upper class. Those of his former courtiers whom I saw did not speak of him, and I honestly believe they did not think of him. The Revolution had so completely turned their thoughts in another direction, that they had forgotten their Sovereign. I may be told that this is the ordinary fate of fallen kings; but what seems more worthy of remark, his enemies even had forgotten him: they no longer feared him enough to slander him, perhaps even to hate him, which is one of fortune’s greatest, or at least rarest, insults.
I do not wish to write the history of the Revolution of 1848, I only wish to retrace my own actions, ideas, and impressions during the course of this revolution; and I therefore pass over the events that took place during the weeks immediately following the 24th of February, and come to the period preceding the General Election.
The time had come to decide whether one cared merely to watch the progress of this singular revolution or to take part in events. I found the former party leaders divided among themselves; and each of them, moreover, seemed divided also within himself, to judge by the incoherence of the language used and the vacillation of opinion. These politicians, who had almost all been trained to public business amid the regulated, restrained movement of constitutional liberty, and upon whom a great revolution had unexpectedly come, were like river oarsmen who should suddenly find themselves called upon to navigate their boat in mid-ocean. The knowledge they had acquired in their fresh water trips would be of more trouble than assistance to them in this greater adventure, and they would often display more confusion and uncertainty than the passengers themselves.
M. Thiers frequently expressed the opinion that they should go to the poll and get elected, and as frequently urged that it would be wiser to stand aside. I do not know whether his hesitation arose from his dread of the dangers that might follow upon the election, or his fear lest he should not be elected. Rémusat, who always sees so clearly what might, and so dimly what should be done, set forth the good reasons that existed for staying at home, and the no less good reasons for going to the country. Duvergier was distracted. The Revolution had overthrown the system of the balance of power in which his mind had sat motionless during so many years, and he felt as though he were hung up in mid-air. As for the Duc de Broglie, he had not put his head out of his shell since the 24th of February, and in this attitude he awaited the end of society, which in his opinion was close at hand. M. Molé alone, although he was by far the oldest of all the former parliamentary leaders, and possibly for that very reason, resolutely maintained the opinion that they should take part in public affairs and try to lead the Revolution; perhaps because his longer experience had taught him that in troubled times it is dangerous to play the looker-on; perhaps because the hope of again having something to lead cheered him and hid from him the danger of the undertaking; or perhaps because, after being so often bent in contrary directions, under so many different régimes, his mind had become firmer as well as more supple and more indifferent as to the kind of master it might serve. On my side, as may be imagined, I very attentively considered which was the best resolution to adopt.
I should like here to inquire into the reasons which determined my course of action, and having found them, to set them down without evasion: but how difficult it is to speak well of one’s self! I have observed that the greater part of those who have written their Memoirs have only well shown us their bad actions or their weaknesses when they happened to have taken them for deeds of prowess or fine instincts, a thing which often occurs. As in the case of the Cardinal de Retz, who, in order to be credited with what he considers the glory of being a good conspirator, confesses his schemes for assassinating Richelieu, and tells us of his hypocritical devotions and charities lest he should fail to be taken for a clever man. In such cases it is not the love of truth that guides the pen, but the warped mind which involuntarily betrays the vices of the heart.
And even when one wishes to be sincere, it is very rarely that one succeeds in the endeavour. The fault lies, in the first place, with the public, which likes to see one accuse, but will not suffer him to praise, himself; even one’s friends are wont to describe as amiable candour all the harm, and as unbecoming vanity all the good, that he says of himself: so that at this rate sincerity becomes a very thankless trade, by which one has everything to lose and nothing to gain. But the difficulty, above all, lies with the subject himself: he is too close to himself to see well, and prone to lose himself amid the views, interests, ideas, thoughts and inclinations that have guided his actions. This net-work of little foot-paths, which are little known even by those who use them, prevent one from clearly discerning the main roads followed by the will before arriving at the most important conclusions.
Nevertheless, I will try to discover myself amid this labyrinth, for it is only right that I should take the same liberties with myself which I have taken, and shall often continue to take, with others.
Let me say, then, that when I came to search carefully into the depths of my own heart, I discovered, with some surprise, a certain sense of relief, a sort of gladness mingled with all the griefs and fears to which the Revolution had given rise. I suffered from this terrible event for my country, but clearly not for myself; on the contrary, I seemed to breathe more freely than before the catastrophe. I had always felt myself stifled in the atmosphere of the parliamentary world which had just been destroyed: I had found it full of disappointments, both where others and where I myself was concerned; and to commence with the latter, I was not long in discovering that I did not possess the necessary qualifications to play the brilliant rôle that I had imagined: both my qualities and my defects were impediments. I had not the virtues necessary to command respect, and I was too upright to stoop to all the petty practices which were at that time essential to a speedy success. And observe that this uprightness was irremediable; for it forms so integral a part both of my temperament and my principles, that without it I am never able to turn myself to any account. Whenever I have, by ill-luck, been obliged to speak in defence of a bad cause, or to assist in bad measures, I have immediately found myself deprived of all talent and all ardour; and I confess that nothing has consoled me more at the want of success with which my uprightness has often met, than the certainty I have always been in that I could never have made more than a very clumsy and mediocre rogue. I also ended by perceiving that I was absolutely lacking in the art of grouping and leading a large number of men. I have always been incapable of dexterity, except in tête-à-tête, and embarrassed and dumb in the presence of a crowd; I do not mean to say that at a given moment I am unable to say and do what will please it, but that is not enough: those great occasions are very rare in parliamentary warfare. The trick of the trade, in a party leader, is to be able to mix continually with his followers and even his adversaries, to show himself, to move about daily, to play continually now to the boxes, now to the gallery, so as to reach the level of every intelligence, to discuss and argue without end, to say the same things a thousand times in different ways, and to be impassioned eternally in the face of the same objects. These are all things of which I am quite incapable. I find it troublesome to discuss matters which interest me little, and painful to discuss those in which I am keenly concerned. Truth is for me so rare and precious a thing that, once found, I do not like to risk it on the hazard of a debate; it is a light which I fear to extinguish by waving it to and fro. And as to consorting with men, I could not do so in any habitual and general fashion, because I never recognize more than a very few. Unless a person strikes me by something out of the common in his intellect or opinions, I, so to speak, do not see him. I have always taken it for granted that mediocrities, as well as men of merit, had a nose, a mouth, eyes; but I have never, in their case, been able to fix the particular shape of these features in my memory. I am constantly inquiring the name of strangers whom I see every day, and as constantly forgetting them; and yet, I do not despise them, only I consort but little with them, treating them as constant quantities. I honour them, for the world is made up of them; but they weary me profoundly.
What completed my disgust was the mediocrity and monotony of the parliamentary events of that period, as well as the triviality of the passions and the vulgar perversity of the men who pretended to cause or to guide them.
I have sometimes thought that, though the habits of different societies may differ, the morality of the politicians at the head of affairs is everywhere the same. What is very certain is that, in France, all the party leaders whom I have met in my time have, with few exceptions, appeared to me to be equally unworthy of holding office, some because of their lack of personal character or of real parts, most by their lack of any sort of virtue. I thus experienced as great a difficulty in joining with others as in being satisfied with myself, in obeying as in acting on my own initiative.
But that which most tormented and depressed me during the nine years I had spent in business, and which to this day remains my most hideous memory of that time, is the incessant uncertainty in which I had to live as to the best daily course to adopt. I am inclined to think that my uncertainty of character arises rather from a want of clearness of idea than from any weakness of heart, and that I never experienced either hesitation or difficulty in following the most rugged road, when once I clearly saw where it would lead me. But amid all these little dynastic parties, differing so little in aim, and resembling one another so much in the bad methods which they put into practice, which was the thoroughfare that led visibly to honour, or even to utility? Where lay truth? Where falsehood? On which side were the rogues? On which side the honest men? I was never, at that time, fully able to distinguish it, and I declare that even now I should not well be able to do so. Most party men allow themselves to be neither distressed nor unnerved by doubts of this kind; many even have never known them, or know them no longer. They are often accused of acting without conviction; but my experience has proved that this was much less frequently the case than one might think. Only they possess the precious and sometimes, in politics, even necessary faculty of creating transient convictions for themselves, according to the passions and interests of the moment, and thus they succeed in committing, honourably enough, actions which in themselves are little to their credit. Unfortunately, I could never bring myself to illuminate my intelligence with these special and artificial lights, nor so readily to convince myself that my own advantage was one and the same with the general good.
It was this parliamentary world, in which I had suffered all the wretchedness that I have just described, which was broken up by the Revolution; it had mingled and confounded the old parties in one common ruin, deposed their leaders, and destroyed their traditions and discipline. There had issued from this, it was true, a disordered and confused state of society, but one in which ability became less necessary and less highly rated than courage and disinterestedness; in which personal character was more important than elocution or the art of leadership; but, above all, in which there was no field left for vacillation of mind: on this side lay the salvation of the country; on that, its destruction. There was no longer any mistake possible as to the road to follow; we were to walk in broad daylight, supported and encouraged by the crowd. The road seemed dangerous, it is true, but my mind is so constructed that it is less afraid of danger than of doubt. I felt, moreover, that I was still in the prime of life, that I had few needs, and, above all, that I was able to find at home the support, so rare and precious in times of revolution, of a devoted wife, whom a firm and penetrating mind and a naturally lofty soul would easily maintain at the level of every situation and above every reverse.
I therefore determined to plunge boldly into the arena, and in defence, not of any particular government, but of the laws which constitute society itself, to risk my fortune, my person, and my peace of mind. The first thing was to secure my election, and I left speedily for Normandy in order to put myself before the electors.
MY CANDIDATURE OF THE DEPARTMENT OF LA MANCHE—THE ASPECT OF THE COUNTRY—THE GENERAL ELECTION.
As every one knows, the Department of la Manche is peopled almost exclusively by farmers. It contains few large towns, few manufactures, and, with the exception of Cherbourg, no places in which workmen are gathered in large numbers. At first, the Revolution was hardly noticed there. The upper classes immediately bent beneath the blow, and the lower classes scarcely felt it. Generally speaking, agricultural populations are slower than others in perceiving, and more stubborn in retaining, political impressions; they are the last to rise and the last to settle down again. The steward of my estate, himself half a peasant, describing what was taking place in the country immediately after the 24th of February, wrote:
“People here say that if Louis-Philippe has been sent away, it is a good thing, and that he deserved it. . . .”
This was to them the whole moral of the play. But when they heard tell of the disorder reigning in Paris, of the new taxes to be imposed, and of the general state of war that was to be feared; when they saw commerce cease and money seem to sink down into the ground, and when, in particular, they learnt that the principle of property was being attacked, they did not fail to perceive that there was something more than Louis-Philippe in question.
Fear, which had first displayed itself in the upper circles of society, then descended into the depths of the people, and universal terror took possession of the whole country. This was the condition in which I found it when I arrived about the middle of March. I was at once struck by a spectacle that both astonished and charmed me. A certain demagogic agitation reigned, it is true, among the workmen in the towns; but in the country all the landed proprietors, whatever their origin, antecedents, education or means, had come together, and seemed to form but one class: all former political hatred and rivalry of caste or fortune had disappeared from view. There was no more jealousy or pride displayed between the peasant and the squire, the nobleman and the commoner; instead, I found mutual confidence, reciprocal friendliness, and regard. Property had become, with all those who owned it, a sort of badge of fraternity. The wealthy were the elder, the less endowed the younger brothers; but all considered themselves members of one family, having the same interest in defending the common inheritance. As the French Revolution had infinitely increased the number of land-owners, the whole population seemed to belong to that vast family. I had never seen anything like it, nor had anyone in France within the memory of man. Experience has shown that this union was not so close as it appeared, and that the former parties and the various classes had drawn closer rather than mingled together; fear had acted upon them as a mechanical pressure might upon very hard bodies, which are compelled to adhere to one another so long as the pressure continues, but which separate so soon as it is relaxed.
As a matter of fact, from the first moment I saw no trace whatever of political opinions, properly so-called. One would have thought that the republican form of government had suddenly become not only the best, but the only one imaginable for France. Dynastic hopes and regrets were buried so profoundly in the souls of men that not even the place they had once occupied was visible. The Republic respected persons and property, and it was accepted as lawful. In the spectacle I have just described, I was most struck at witnessing the universal hatred, together with the universal terror, now for the first time inspired by Paris. In France, provincials have for Paris, and for the central power of which Paris is the seat, feelings analogous to those which the English entertain for their aristocracy, which they sometimes support with impatience and often regard with jealousy, but which at bottom they love, because they always hope to turn its privileges to their private advantage. This time Paris and those who spoke in its name had so greatly abused their power, and seemed to be giving so little heed to the rest of the country, that the idea of shaking off the yoke and of acting for themselves came to many who had never before conceived it: uncertain and timid desires, it is true, feeble and ephemeral passions from which I never believed that there was much to be either hoped or feared; but these new feelings were then turning into electoral ardour. Everyone clamoured for the elections; for to elect the enemies of the demagogues of Paris presented itself to public opinion less as the constitutional exercise of a right, than as the least dangerous method one could employ of making a stand against the tyrant.
I fixed my head-quarters in the little town of Valognes, which was the natural centre of my influence; and as soon as I had ascertained the condition of the country, I set about my candidature. I then saw what I have often observed under a thousand different circumstances, that nothing makes more for success than not to desire it too ardently. I very much wanted to get elected; but in the difficult and critical condition of affairs then reigning, I easily reconciled myself to the idea of being rejected; and from this placid anticipation of a rebuff I drew a tranquillity and clearness of mind, a respect for myself and a contempt for the follies of the time, that I should perhaps not have found in the same degree had I been swayed only by a longing to succeed.
The country began to fill with roving candidates, hawking their protestations of Republicanism from hustings to hustings. I refused to present myself before any other electoral body than that of the place where I lived. Each small town had its club, and each club questioned the candidates regarding their opinions and actions, and subjected them to formulas. I refused to reply to any of these insolent interrogatories. These refusals, which might have seemed disdainful, appeared in the light of dignity and independence in the face of the new rulers, and I was more esteemed for my rebelliousness than the others for their obedience. I therefore contented myself with publishing an address and having it posted up throughout the department.
Most of the candidates had resumed the old customs of ’92. When writing to people they called them “Citizens,” and signed themselves “fraternally yours.” I would never consent to adopt this revolutionary nonsense. I headed my address, “Gentlemen,” and ended by proudly declaring myself my electors’ “very humble servant.”
“I do not come to solicit your suffrages,” I said, “I come only to place myself at the orders of my country. I asked to be your representative when the times were easy and peaceful; my honour forbids me to refuse to be so in a period full of agitation, which may become full of danger. That is the first thing I had to tell you.”
I added that I had been faithful to the end to the oath I had taken to the Monarchy, but that the Republic, which had been brought about without my aid, should have my energetic support, and that I would not only accept but assist it. Then I went on:
“But of what Republic is it a question? There are some who, by a Republic, understand a dictatorship exercised in the name of liberty; who think that the Republic should not only change political institutions but the face of society itself. There are some who think that the Republic should needs be of an aggressive and propagandist kind. I am not a Republican after this fashion. If this were your manner of being Republicans, I could be of no use to you, for I should not be of your opinion; but if you understand the Republic as I understand it myself, you can rely upon me to devote myself heart and soul to the triumph of a cause which is mine as well as yours.”
Men who show no fear in times of revolution are like princes with the army: they produce a great effect by very ordinary actions, because the peculiar position which they occupy naturally places them above the level of the crowd and brings them very much in view. My address was so successful that I myself was astonished at it; within a few days it made me the most popular man in the department of la Manche, and the object of universal attention. My old political adversaries, the agents of the old Government, the Conservatives themselves who had so vigorously opposed me, and whom the Republic had overthrown, came in crowds to assure me that they were ready not only to vote for me, but to follow my views in everything.
In the meantime, the first meeting of the electors of the Arrondissement of Valognes took place. I appeared together with the other candidates. A shed did duty for a hall; the chairman’s platform was at the bottom, and at the side was a professorial pulpit which had been transformed into a tribune. The chairman, who himself was a professor at the College of Valognes, said to me with a loud voice and a magisterial air, but in a very respectful tone: “Citizen de Tocqueville, I will tell you the questions which are put to you, and to which you will have to reply;” to which I replied, carelessly, “Mr Chairman, pray put the questions.”
A parliamentary orator, whose name I will not mention, once said to me:
“Look here, my dear friend, there is only one way of speaking well from the tribune, and that is to be fully persuaded, as you get into it, that you are the cleverest man in the world.”
This had always appeared to me easier to say than to do, in the presence of our great political assemblies. But I confess that here the maxim was easy enough to follow, and that I thought it a wonderfully good one. Nevertheless, I did not go so far as to convince myself that I was cleverer than all the world; but I soon saw that I was the only one who was well acquainted with the facts they brought up, and even with the political language they wished to speak. It would be difficult to show one’s self more maladroit and more ignorant than did my adversaries; they overwhelmed me with questions which they thought very close, and which left me very free, while I on my side made replies which were sometimes not very brilliant, but which always to them appeared most conclusive. The ground on which they hoped, above all, to crush me was that of the banquets. I had refused, as I have already said, to take part in these dangerous demonstrations. My political friends had found fault with me for abandoning them in that matter, and many continued to bear me ill-will, although—or perhaps because—the Revolution had proved me to be right.
“Why did you part from the Opposition on the occasion of the banquets?” I was asked.
I replied, boldly:
“I could easily find a pretext, but I prefer to give you my real reason: I did not want the banquets because I did not want a revolution; and I venture to say that hardly any of those who sat down to the banquets would have done so had they foreseen, as I did, the events to which these would lead. The only difference I can see between you and myself is that I knew what you were doing while you did not know it yourselves.” This bold profession of anti-revolutionary had been preceded by one of republican faith; the sincerity of the one seemed to bear witness to that of the other; the meeting laughed and applauded. My adversaries were scoffed at, and I came off triumphant.
I had won the agricultural population of the department by my address; I won the Cherbourg workmen by a speech. The latter had been assembled to the number of two thousand at a patriotic dinner. I received a very obliging and pressing invitation to attend, and I did.
When I arrived, the procession was ready to start for the banqueting-hall, with, at its head, my old colleague Havin, who had come expressly from Saint-Lô to take the chair. It was the first time I had met him since the 24th of February. On that day, I saw him giving his arm to the Duchesse d’Orléans, and the next morning I heard that he was Commissary of the Republic in the department of la Manche. I was not surprised, for I knew him as one of those easily bewildered, ambitious men who had found themselves fixed for ten years in opposition, after thinking at first that they were in it only for a little. How many of these men have I not seen around me, tortured with their own virtue, and despairing because they saw themselves spending the best part of their lives in criticizing the faults of others without ever in some measure realizing by experience what were their own, and finding nothing to feed upon but the sight of public corruption! Most of them had contracted during this long abstinence so great an appetite for places, honours and money that it was easy to predict that at the first opportunity they would throw themselves upon power with a sort of gluttony, without taking time to choose either the moment or the morsel. Havin was the very type of these men. The Provisional Government had given him as his associate, and even as his chief, another of my former colleagues in the Chamber of Deputies, M. Vieillard, who has since become famous as a particular friend of Prince Louis Napoleon’s. Vieillard was entitled to serve the Republic, since he had been one of the seven or eight republican deputies under the Monarchy. Moreover, he was one of the Republicans who had passed through the salons of the Empire before attaining demagogism. In literature he was a bigoted classic; a Voltairean in religious belief; rather fatuous, very kind-hearted; an honest man, and even an intelligent; but a very fool in politics. Havin had made him his tool: whenever he wished to strike a blow at one of his own enemies, or to reward one of his own friends, he invariably put forward Vieillard, who allowed him to do as he pleased. In this manner Havin made his way sheltered beneath the honesty and republicanism of Vieillard, whom he always kept before him, as the miner does his gabion.
Havin scarcely seemed to recognize me; he did not invite me to take a place in the procession. I modestly withdrew into the midst of the crowd; and when we arrived at the banqueting-hall, I sat down at one of the lower tables. We soon got to the speeches: Vieillard delivered a very proper written speech, and Havin read out another written speech, which was well received. I, too, was very much inclined to speak, but my name was not down, and moreover I did not quite see how I was to begin. A word which one of the orators (for all the speakers called themselves orators) dropped to the memory of Colonel Briqueville gave me my opportunity. I asked for permission to speak, and the meeting consented. When I found myself perched in the tribune, or rather in that pulpit placed twenty feet above the crowd, I felt a little confused; but I soon recovered myself, and delivered a little piece of oratorical fustian which I should find it impossible to recollect to-day. I only know that it contained a certain appositeness, besides the warmth which never fails to make itself apparent through the disorder of an improvised speech, a merit quite sufficient to succeed with a popular assembly, or even with an assembly of any sort; for, it cannot be too often repeated, speeches are made to be listened to and not to be read, and the only good ones are those that move the audience.
The success of mine was marked and complete, and I confess it seemed very sweet to me to revenge myself in this way on the manner in which my former colleague had endeavoured to abuse what he considered the favours of fortune.
If I am not mistaken, it was between this time and the elections that I made my journey to Saint-Lô, as member of the Council General. The Council had been summoned to an extraordinary sitting. It was still composed as under the Monarchy: most of its members had shown themselves complaisant towards Louis-Philippe’s ministers, and may be reckoned among those who had most contributed to bring that Prince’s government into contempt in our country. The only thing I can recall of the Saint-Lô journey is the singular servility of these ex-Conservatives. Not only did they make no opposition to Havin, who had insulted them for the past ten years, but they became his most attentive courtiers. They praised him with their words, supported him with their votes, smiled upon him approvingly; they even spoke well of him among themselves, for fear of indiscretion. I have often seen greater pictures of human baseness, but never any that was more perfect; and I think it deserves, despite its pettiness, to be brought fully to light. I will, therefore, display it in the light of subsequent events, and I will add that some months later, when the turn of the popular tide had restored them to power, they at once set about pursuing this same Havin anew with unheard-of violence and even injustice. All their old hatred became visible amid the quaking of their terror, and it seemed to have become still greater at the remembrance of their temporary complaisance.
Meantime the general election was drawing nigh, and each day the aspect of the future became more sinister. All the news from Paris represented the capital as on the point of constantly falling into the hands of armed Socialists. It was doubted whether these latter would allow the electors to vote freely, or at least whether they would submit to the National Assembly. Already in every part of the country the officers of the National Guard were being made to swear that they would march against the Assembly if a conflict arose between that body and the people. The provinces were becoming more and more alarmed, but were also strengthening themselves at the sight of the danger.
I spent the few days preceding the contest at my poor, dear Tocqueville. It was the first time I had visited it since the Revolution: I was perhaps about to leave it for ever! I was seized on my arrival with so great and uncommon a feeling of sadness that it has left in my memory traces which have remained marked and visible to this day amid all the vestiges of the events of that time. I was not expected. The empty rooms, in which there was none but my old dog to receive me, the undraped windows, the heaped-up dusty furniture, the extinct fires, the run-down clocks—all seemed to point to abandonment and to foretell ruin. This little isolated corner of the earth, lost, as it were, amid the fields and hedges of our Norman coppices, which had so often seemed to me the most charming of solitudes, now appeared to me, in the actual state of my thoughts, as a desolate desert; but across the desolation of its present aspect I discovered, as though from the depth of a tomb, the sweetest and most attractive episodes of my life. I wonder how our imagination gives so much deeper colour and so much more attractiveness to things than they possess. I had just witnessed the fall of the Monarchy; I have since been present at the most sanguinary scenes; and nevertheless I declare that none of these spectacles produced in me so deep and painful an emotion as that which I experienced that day at the sight of the ancient abode of my forefathers, when I thought of the peaceful days and happy hours I had spent there without knowing their value—I say that it was then and there that I best understood all the bitterness of revolutions.
The local population had always been well disposed to me; but this time I found them affectionate, and I was never received with more respect than now, when all the walls were placarded with the expression of degrading equality. We were all to go and vote together at the borough of Saint-Pierre, about one league away from our village. On the morning of the election, all the voters (that is to say, all the male population above the age of twenty) collected together in front of the church. All these men formed themselves in a double column, in alphabetical order. I took up my place in the situation denoted by my name, for I knew that in democratic times and countries one must be nominated to the head of the people, and not place one’s self there. At the end of the long procession, in carts or on pack-horses, came the sick or infirm who wished to follow us; we left none behind save the women and children. We were one hundred and sixty-six all told. At the top of the hill which commands Tocqueville there came a halt; they wished me to speak. I climbed to the other side of a ditch; a circle was formed round me, and I spoke a few words such as the circumstances inspired. I reminded these worthy people of the gravity and importance of what they were about to do; I recommended them not to allow themselves to be accosted or turned aside by those who, on our arrival at the borough, might seek to deceive them, but to march on solidly and stay together, each in his place, until they had voted. “Let no one,” I said, “go into a house to seek food or shelter [it was raining] before he has done his duty.” They cried that they would do as I wished, and they did. All the votes were given at the same time, and I have reason to believe that they were almost all given to the same candidate.
After voting myself, I took my leave of them, and set out to return to Paris.
THE FIRST SITTING OF THE CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY—THE APPEARANCE OF THIS ASSEMBLY.
I stopped at Valognes only long enough to bid goodbye to some of my friends. Many left me with tears in their eyes, for there was a belief current in the country that the representatives would be exposed to great danger in Paris. Several of these worthy people said to me, “If they attack the National Assembly, we will come and defend you.” I feel a certain remorse at having seen only vain words in this promise at the time; for, as a matter of fact, they did all come, they and many more, as I shall show later.
It was only when I reached Paris that I learnt that I had received 110,704 votes out of a possible 120,000. Most of my new colleagues belonged to the old dynastic Opposition: two only had professed republican principles before the Revolution, and were what was called in the jargon of the day “Republicans of yesterday.” The same was the case in most parts of France.
There have certainly been more wicked revolutionaries than those of 1848, but I doubt if there were ever any more stupid; they neither knew how to make use of universal suffrage nor how to do without it. If they had held the elections immediately after the 24th of February, while the upper classes were still bewildered by the blow they had just received, and the people more amazed than discontented, they would perhaps have obtained an assembly after their hearts; if, on the other hand, they had boldly seized the dictatorship, they might have been able for some time to retain it. But they trusted themselves to the nation, and at the same time did all that was most likely to set the latter against them; they threatened it while placing themselves in its power; they alarmed it by the recklessness of their proposals and the violence of their language, while inviting it to resistance by the feebleness of their actions; they pretended to lay down the law to it at the very time that they were placing themselves at its disposal. Instead of opening out their ranks after the victory, they jealously closed them up, and seemed, in one word, to be striving to solve this insoluble problem, namely, how to govern through the majority and yet against its inclination.
Following the examples of the past without understanding them, they foolishly imagined that to summon the crowd to take part in political life was sufficient to attach it to their cause; and that to popularize the Republic, it was enough to give the public rights without offering them any profits. They forgot that their predecessors, when they gave every peasant the vote, at the same time did away with tithes, abolished statute labour and the other seignorial privileges, and divided the property of the nobles among the peasants; whereas they were not in a position to do anything of the kind. In establishing universal suffrage they thought they were summoning the people to the assistance of the Revolution: they were only giving them arms against it. Nevertheless, I am far from believing that it was impossible to arouse revolutionary passions, even in the country districts. In France, every agriculturist owns some portion of the soil, and most of them are more or less involved in debt; it was not, therefore, the landlords that should have been attacked, but the creditors; not the abolition promised of the rights of property, but the abolition of debts. The demagogues of 1848 did not think of this scheme; they showed themselves much clumsier than their predecessors, but no less dishonest, for they were as violent and unjust in their desires as the others in their acts. Only, to commit violent and unjust acts, it is not enough for a government to have the will, or even the power; the habits, ideas, and passions of the time must lend themselves to the committal of them.
As the party which held the reins of government saw its candidates rejected one after the other, it displayed great vexation and rage, complaining now sadly and now rudely of the electors, whom it treated as ignorant, ungrateful blockheads, and enemies of their own good; it lost its temper with the whole nation; and, its impatience exhausted by the latter’s coldness, it seemed ready to say with Molière’s Arnolfe, when he addresses Agnès:
“Pourquoi ne m’aimer pas, madame l’impudente?”
One thing was not ridiculous, but really ominous and terrible; and that was the appearance of Paris on my return. I found in the capital a hundred thousand armed workmen formed into regiments, out of work, dying of hunger, but with their minds crammed with vain theories and visionary hopes. I saw society cut into two: those who possessed nothing, united in a common greed; those who possessed something, united in a common terror. There were no bonds, no sympathy between these two great sections; everywhere the idea of an inevitable and immediate struggle seemed at hand. Already the bourgeois and the peuple (for the old nicknames had been resumed) had come to blows, with varying fortunes, at Rouen, Limoges, Paris; not a day passed but the owners of property were attacked or menaced in either their capital or income: they were asked to employ labour without selling the produce; they were expected to remit the rents of their tenants when they themselves possessed no other means of living. They gave way as long as they could to this tyranny, and endeavoured at least to turn their weakness to account by publishing it. I remember reading in the papers of that time this advertisement, among others, which still strikes me as a model of vanity, poltroonery, and stupidity harmoniously mingled:
“Mr Editor,” it read, “I make use of your paper to inform my tenants that, desiring to put into practice in my relations with them the principles of fraternity that should guide all true democrats, I will hand to those of my tenants who apply for it a formal receipt for their next quarter’s rent.”
Meanwhile, a gloomy despair had overspread the middle class thus threatened and oppressed, and imperceptibly this despair was changing into courage. I had always believed that it was useless to hope to settle the movement of the Revolution of February peacefully and gradually, and that it could only be stopped suddenly, by a great battle fought in the streets of Paris. I had said this immediately after the 24th of February; and what I now saw persuaded me that this battle was not only inevitable but imminent, and that it would be well to seize the first opportunity to deliver it.
The National Assembly met at last on the 4th of May; it was doubtful until the last moment whether it would meet at all. I believe, in fact, that the more ardent of the demagogues were often tempted to do without it, but they dared not; they remained crushed beneath the weight of their own dogma of the sovereignty of the people.
I should have before my eyes the picture which the Assembly presented at its opening; but I find, on the contrary, that only a very confused recollection of it has lingered in my mind. It is a mistake to believe that events remain present in one’s memory in proportion to their importance or their greatness alone; rather is it certain little particularities which occur, and cause them to penetrate deep into the mind, and fix them there in a lasting manner. I only remember that we shouted, “Long live the Republic” fifteen times during the course of the sitting, trying who could out-shout the other. The history of the Assemblies is full of parallel incidents, and one constantly sees one party exaggerating its feelings in order to embarrass its opponents, while the latter feign to hold sentiments which they do not possess, in order to avoid the trap. Both sides, with a common effort, went either beyond, or in the contrary direction to, the truth. Nevertheless, I think the cry was sincere enough; only it responded to diverse or even contrary thoughts. All at that time wished to preserve the Republic; but some wished to use it for purposes of attack, others for purposes of defence. The newspapers spoke of the enthusiasm of the Assembly and of the public; there was a great deal of noise, but no enthusiasm at all. Everyone was too greatly preoccupied with the immediate future to allow himself to be carried beyond that thought by sentiment of any kind. A decree of the Provisional Government laid down that the representatives should wear the costume of the Conventionals, and especially the white waistcoat with turn-down collar in which Robespierre was always represented on the stage. I thought at first that this fine notion originated with Louis Blanc or Ledru-Rollin; but I learned later that it was due to the flowery and literary imagination of Armand Marrast. No one obeyed the decree, not even its author; Caussidière was the only one to adopt the appointed disguise. This drew my attention to him; for I did not know him by sight any more than most of those who were about to call themselves the Montagnards, always with the idea of keeping up the recollection of ’93. I beheld a very big and very heavy body, on which was placed a sugar-loaf head, sunk deep between the two shoulders, with a wicked, cunning eye, and an air of general good-nature spread over the rest of his face. In short, he was a mass of shapeless matter, in which worked a mind sufficiently subtle to know how to make the most of his coarseness and ignorance.
In the course of the two subsequent days, the members of the Provisional Government, one after the other, told us what they had done since the 24th of February. Each said a great deal of good of himself, and even a certain amount of good of his colleagues, although it would be difficult to meet a body of men who mutually hated one another more sincerely than these did. Independently of the political hatred and jealousy that divided them, they seemed still to feel towards each other that peculiar irritation common to travellers who have been compelled to live together upon the same ship during a long and stormy passage, without suiting or understanding one another. At this first sitting I met again almost all the members of Parliament among whom I had lived. With the exception of M. Thiers, who had been defeated; of the Duc de Broglie, who had not stood, I believe; and of Messrs Guizot and Duchâtel, who had fled, all the famous orators and most of the better-known talkers of the political world were there; but they found themselves, as it were, out of their element, they felt isolated and suspected, they both felt and inspired fear, two contraries often to be met with in the political world. As yet they possessed none of that influence which their talents and experience were soon to restore to them. All the remainder of the Assembly were as much novices as though we had issued fresh from the Ancien Régime; for, thanks to our system of centralization, public life had always been confined within the limits of the Chambers, and those who were neither peers nor deputies scarcely knew what an Assembly was, nor how one should speak or behave in one. They were absolutely ignorant of its most ordinary, everyday habits and customs; and they were inattentive at decisive moments, and listened eagerly to unimportant things. Thus, on the second day, they crowded round the tribune and insisted on perfect silence in order to hear read the minutes of the preceding sitting, imagining that this insignificant form was a most important piece of business. I am convinced that nine hundred English or American peasants, picked at random, would have better represented the appearance of a great political body.
Continuing to imitate the National Convention, the men who professed the most radical and the most revolutionary opinions had taken their seats on the highest benches; they were very uncomfortable up there; but it gave them the right to call themselves Montagnards, and as men always like to feed on pleasant imaginations, these very rashly flattered themselves that they bore a resemblance to the celebrated blackguards whose name they took.
The Montagnards soon divided themselves into two distinct bands: the Revolutionaries of the old school and the Socialists. Nevertheless, the two shades were not sharply defined. One passed from the one to the other by imperceptible tints: the Montagnards proper had almost all some socialistic ideas in their heads, and the Socialists quite approved of the revolutionary proceedings of the others. However, they differed sufficiently among themselves to prevent them from always marching in step, and it was this that saved us. The Socialists were the more dangerous, because they answered more nearly to the true character of the Revolution of February, and to the only passions which it had aroused; but they were men of theory rather than action, and in order to upset Society at their pleasure they would have needed the practical energy and the science of insurrections which only their colleagues in any measure possessed.
From the seat I occupied it was easy for me to hear what was said on the benches of the Mountain, and especially to see what went on. This gave me the opportunity of studying pretty closely the men sitting in that part of the Chamber. It was for me like discovering a new world. We console ourselves for not knowing foreign countries, with the reflection that at least we know our own; but we are wrong, for even in the latter there are always districts which we have not visited, and races which are new to us. I experienced this now. It was as though I saw these Montagnards for the first time, so greatly did their idioms and manners surprise me. They spoke a lingo which was not, properly speaking, the French of either the ignorant or the cultured classes, but which partook of the defects of both, for it abounded in coarse words and ambitious phrases. One heard issuing from the benches of the Mountain a ceaseless torrent of insulting or jocular comments; and at the same time there was poured forth a host of quibbles and maxims; in turns they assumed a very humorous or a very superb tone. It was evident that these people belonged neither to the tavern nor the drawing-room; I think they must have polished their manners in the cafés, and fed their minds on no literature but that of the daily press. In any case, it was the first time since the commencement of the Revolution that this type made any display in one of our Assemblies; until then it had only been represented by sporadic and unnoticed individuals, who were more occupied in concealing than in showing themselves.
The Constituent Assembly had two other peculiarities which struck me as quite as novel as this, although very different from it. It contained an infinitely greater number of landlords and even of noblemen than any of the Chambers elected in the days when it was a necessary condition, in order to be an elector or elected, that you should have money. And also there was a more numerous and more powerful religious party than even under the Restoration: I counted three bishops, several vicars-general, and a Dominican monk, whereas Louis XVIII. and Charles X. had never succeeded in securing the election of more than one single abbé.
The abolition of all quit-rents, which made part of the electors dependent upon the rich, and the danger threatening property, which led the people to choose for their representatives those who were most interested in defending it, are the principal reasons which explain the presence of so great a number of landlords. The election of the ecclesiastics arose from similar causes, and also from a different cause still worthier of consideration. This cause was the almost general and very unexpected return of a great part of the nation towards the concerns of religion.
The Revolution of 1792, when striking the upper classes, had cured them of their irreligiousness; it had taught them, if not the truth, at least the social uses of belief. This lesson was lost upon the middle class, which remained their political heir and their jealous rival; and the latter had even become more sceptical in proportion as the former seemed to become more religious. The Revolution of 1848 had just done on a small scale for our tradesmen what that of 1792 had done for the nobility: the same reverses, the same terrors, the same conversion; it was the same picture, only painted smaller and in less bright and, no doubt, less lasting colours. The clergy had facilitated this conversion by separating itself from all the old political parties, and entering into the old, true spirit of the Catholic clergy, which is that it should belong only to the Church. It readily, therefore, professed republican opinions, while at the same time it gave to long-established interests the guarantee of its traditions, its customs and its hierarchy. It was accepted and made much of by all. The priests sent to the Assembly were treated with very great consideration, and they deserved it through their good sense, their moderation and their modesty. Some of them endeavoured to speak from the tribune, but they were never able to learn the language of politics. They had forgotten it too long ago, and all their speeches turned imperceptibly into homilies.
For the rest, the universal voting had shaken the country from top to bottom without bringing to light a single new man worthy of coming to the front. I have always held that, whatever method be followed in a general election, the great majority of the exceptional men whom the nation possesses definitively succeed in getting elected. The system of election adopted exercises a great influence only upon the class of ordinary individuals in the Assembly, who form the ground-work of every political body. These belong to very different orders and are of very diverse natures, according to the system upon which the election has been conducted. Nothing confirmed me in this belief more than did the sight of the Constituent Assembly. Almost all the men who played the first part in it were already known to me, but the bulk of the rest resembled nothing that I had seen before. They were imbued with a new spirit, and displayed a new character and new manners.
I will say that, in my opinion, and taken all round, this Assembly compared favourably with those which I had seen. One met in it more men who were sincere, disinterested, honest and, above all, courageous than in the Chambers of Deputies among which I had spent my life.
The Constituent Assembly had been elected to make a stand against civil war. This was its principal merit; and, in fact, so long as it was necessary to fight, it was great, and only became contemptible after the victory, and when it felt that it was breaking up in consequence of this very victory and under the weight of it.
I selected my seat on the left side of the House, on a bench from which it was easy for me to hear the speakers and to reach the tribune when I wished to speak myself. A large number of my old friends joined me there; Lanjuinais, Dufaure, Corcelles, Beaumont and several others sat near me.
Let me say a word concerning the House itself, although everybody knows it. This is necessary in order to understand the narrative; and, moreover, although this monument of wood and plaster is probably destined to last longer than the Republic of which it was the cradle, I do not think it will enjoy a very long existence; and when it is destroyed, many of the events that took place in it will be difficult to understand.
The house formed an oblong of great size. At one end, against the wall, was the President’s platform and the tribune; nine rows of benches rose gradually along the three other walls. In the middle, facing the tribune, spread a huge, empty space, like the arena of an amphitheatre, with this difference, that this arena was square, not round. The consequence was that most of the listeners only caught a side glimpse of the speaker, and the only ones who saw him full face were very far away: an arrangement curiously calculated to promote inattention and disorder. For the first, who saw the speaker badly, and were continually looking at one another, were more engaged in threatening and apostrophizing each other; and the others did not listen any better, because, although able to see the occupant of the tribune, they heard him badly.
Large windows, placed high up in the walls, opened straight outside, and admitted air and light; the walls were decorated only with a few flags; time had, luckily, been wanting in which to add to them all those spiritless allegories on canvas or pasteboard with which the French love to adorn their monuments, in spite of their being insipid to those who can understand them and utterly incomprehensible to the mass of the people. The whole bore an aspect of immensity, together with an air that was cold, solemn, and almost melancholy. There were seats for nine hundred members, a larger number than that of any of the assemblies that had sat in France for sixty years.
I felt at once that the atmosphere of this assembly suited me. Notwithstanding the gravity of events, I experienced there a sense of well-being that was new to me. For the first time since I had entered public life, I felt myself caught in the current of a majority, and following in its company the only road which my tastes, my reason and my conscience pointed out to me: a new and very welcome sensation. I gathered that this majority would disown the Socialists and the Montagnards, but was sincere in its desire to maintain and organize the Republic. I was with it on these two leading points: I had no monarchic faith, no affection nor regrets for any prince; I felt called upon to defend no cause save that of liberty and the dignity of mankind. To protect the ancient laws of Society against the innovators with the help of the new force which the republican principle might lend to the government; to cause the evident will of the French people to triumph over the passions and desires of the Paris workmen; to conquer demagogism by democracy—that was my only aim. I am not sure that the dangers to be passed through before it could be attained did not make it still more attractive to me; for I have a natural inclination for adventure, and a spice of danger has always seemed to me the best seasoning that can be given to most of the actions of life.
MY RELATIONS WITH LAMARTINE—HIS SUBTERFUGES
Lamartine was now at the climax of his fame: to all those whom the Revolution had injured or alarmed, that is to say, to the great majority of the nation, he appeared in the light of a saviour. He had been elected to the Assembly by the city of Paris and no fewer than eleven departments; I do not believe that ever anybody inspired such keen transports as those to which he was then giving rise; one must have seen love thus stimulated by fear to know with what excess of idolatry men are capable of loving. The transcendental favour which was shown him at this time was not to be compared with anything except, perhaps, the excessive injustice which he shortly afterwards received. All the deputies who came to Paris with the desire to put down the excesses of the Revolution and to combat the demagogic party regarded him beforehand as their only possible leader, and looked to him unhesitatingly to place himself at their head to attack and overthrow the Socialists and demagogues. They soon discovered that they were deceived, and that Lamartine did not see the part he was called upon to play in so simple a light. It must be confessed that his was a very complex and difficult position. It was forgotten at the time, but he could not himself forget, that he had contributed more than any other to the success of the Revolution of February. Terror effaced this remembrance for the moment from the public mind; but a general feeling of security could not fail soon to restore it. It was easy to foresee that, so soon as the current which had brought affairs to their present pitch was arrested, a contrary current would set in, which would impel the nation in the opposite direction, and drive it faster and further than Lamartine could or would go. The success of the Montagnards would involve his immediate ruin; but their complete defeat would render him useless and must, sooner or later, remove the government from his hands. He saw, therefore, that for him there was almost as much danger and loss in triumph as in defeat.
As a matter of fact, I believe that, if Lamartine had resolutely, from the first, placed himself at the head of the immense party which desired to moderate and regulate the course of the Revolution, and had succeeded in leading it to victory, he would before long have been buried beneath his own triumph; he would not have been able to stop his army in time, and it would have left him behind and chosen other leaders.
I doubt whether, whatever line of conduct he had adopted, he could have retained his power for long. I believe his only remaining chance was to be gloriously defeated while saving his country. But Lamartine was the last man to sacrifice himself in this way. I do not know that I have ever, in this world of selfishness and ambition in which I lived, met a mind so void of any thought of the public welfare as his. I have seen a crowd of men disturbing the country in order to raise themselves: that is an everyday perversity; but he is the only one who seemed to me always ready to turn the world upside down in order to divert himself. Neither have I ever known a mind less sincere, nor one that had a more thorough contempt for the truth. When I say he despised it, I am wrong: he did not honour it enough to heed it in any way whatever. When speaking or writing, he spoke the truth or lied, without caring which he did, occupied only with the effect he wished to produce at the moment.
I had not seen Lamartine since the 24th of February. I saw him the first time on the day before the opening of the Assembly in the new house, where I had gone to choose my seat, but I did not speak to him; he was surrounded by some of his new friends. The instant he saw me, he pretended some business at the other end of the house, and hurried away as fast as he could. He sent me word afterwards by Champeaux (who belonged to him, half as a friend and half as a servant) that I must not take it ill of him that he avoided me; that his position obliged him to act in this way towards the members of the late parliament; that my place was, of course, marked out among the future leaders of the Republic; but that we must wait till the first temporary difficulties were surmounted before coming to an agreement. Champeaux also declared that he was instructed to ask my opinion on the state of business; I gave it him very readily, but to very little purpose. This established certain indirect relations between Lamartine and myself through the intermediary of Champeaux. The latter often came to see me, to inform me, on behalf of his patron, of the arrangements that were being prepared; and I sometimes went to see him in a little room he had hired on the top floor of a house in the Rue Saint-Honoré, where he used to receive suspicious visitors, although he had a complete set of rooms at the Foreign Office.
I usually found him overwhelmed with place-hunters; for in France political mendicancy exists under every form of government. It even increases through the very revolutions that are directed against it, because all revolutions ruin a certain number of men, and with us a ruined man always looks to the State to repair his fortunes. They were of all kinds, all attracted by the reflection of power which Lamartine’s friendship very transiently cast over Champeaux. I remember among others a certain cook, not particularly distinguished in his calling, as far as I could see, who insisted upon entering the service of Lamartine, who had, he said, become President of the Republic.
“But he’s not President yet!” cried Champeaux.
“If he’s not so yet, as you say,” said the man, “he’s going to be, and he must already be thinking of his kitchen.”
In order to rid himself of this scullion’s obstinate ambition, Champeaux promised to bring his name before Lamartine so soon as the latter should be President of the Republic. The poor man went away quite satisfied, dreaming no doubt of the very imaginary splendours of his approaching condition.
I frequented Champeaux pretty assiduously during that time, although he was exceedingly vain, loquacious, and tedious, because, in talking with him, I became better acquainted with Lamartine’s thoughts and projects than if I had been talking to the great man himself. Lamartine’s intelligence was seen through Champeaux’ folly as you see the sun through a smoked glass, which shows you the luminary deprived of its heat-rays, but less dazzling to the eye. I easily gathered that in this world every one was feeding on pretty well the same chimeras as the cook of whom I have just spoken, and that Lamartine already tasted at the bottom of his heart the sweets of that sovereign power which was nevertheless at that very moment escaping from his hands. He was then following the tortuous road that was so soon to lead him to his ruin, struggling to dominate the Mountain without overthrowing it, and to slacken the revolutionary fire without extinguishing it, so as to give the country a feeling of security strong enough for it to bless him, not strong enough to cause it to forget him. What he dreaded above all was that the conduct of the Assembly should be allowed to fall into the hands of the former parliamentary leaders. This was, I believe, at the time his dominant passion. One could see this during the great discussion on the constitution of the Executive Power; never did the different parties display more visibly the pedantic hypocrisy which induces them to conceal their interests beneath their ideas: an ordinary spectacle enough, but more striking at this time than usual, because the needs of the moment compelled each party to shelter itself behind theories which were foreign or even opposed to it. The old royalist party maintained that the Assembly itself should govern and choose its ministers: a theory that was almost demagogic; and the demagogues declared that the Executive Power should be entrusted to a permanent commission, which should govern and select all the agents of the government: a system that approached the monarchic idea. All this verbiage only meant that one side wished to remove Ledru-Rollin from power, and the other to keep him there.
The nation saw in Ledru-Rollin the bloody image of the Terror; it beheld in him the genius of evil as in Lamartine the genius of good, and it was mistaken in both cases. Ledru-Rollin was nothing more than a very sensual and sanguine heavy fellow, quite without principles and almost without brains, possessing no real courage of mind or heart, and even free from malice: for he naturally wished well to all the world, and was incapable of cutting the throats of any one of his adversaries, except, perhaps, for the sake of historical reminiscences, or to accommodate his friends.
The result of the debate remained long doubtful: Barrot turned it against us by making a very fine speech in our favour. I have witnessed many of these unforeseen incidents in parliamentary life, and have seen parties constantly deceived in the same way, because they always think only of the pleasure they themselves derive from their great orator’s words, and never of the dangerous excitement he promotes in their opponents.
When Lamartine, who till then had kept silent and remained, I believe, in indecision, heard, for the first time since February, the voice of the ex-leader of the Left resounding with brilliancy and success, he suddenly made up his mind, and spoke. “You understand,” said Champeaux to me the next day, “that before all it was necessary to prevent the Assembly from coming to a resolution upon Barrot’s advice.” So Lamartine spoke, and, according to his custom, spoke in brilliant fashion.
The majority, who had already adopted the course that Barrot had urged upon them, wheeled round as they listened to him (for this Assembly was more credulous and more submissive than any that I had ever seen to the wiles of eloquence: it was novice and innocent enough to seek for reasons for their decisions in the speeches of the orators). Thus Lamartine won his cause, but missed his fortune; for he that day gave rise to the mistrust which soon arose and hurled him from his pinnacle of popularity more quickly than he had mounted it. Suspicion took a definite form the very next day, when he was seen to patronize Ledru-Rollin and force the hand of his own friends in order to induce them to appoint the latter as his colleague on the Executive Commission. At this sight there arose in the Assembly and in the nation inexpressible disappointment, terror and rage. For my part, I experienced these two last emotions in the highest degree; I clearly perceived that Lamartine was turning out of the high-road that led us away from anarchy, and I could not guess into what abyss he might lead us if we followed the byways which he was treading. How was it possible, indeed, to foresee how far an always exuberant imagination might go, unrestrained by reason or virtue? Lamartine’s common-sense impressed me no more than did his disinterestedness; and, in fact, I believed him capable of everything except cowardly behaviour or vulgar oratory.
I confess that the events of June to a certain extent modified the opinion I had formed of his manner of proceeding. They showed that our adversaries were more numerous, better organized and, above all, more determined than I had thought.
Lamartine, who had seen nothing but Paris during the last two months, and who had there, so to speak, lived in the very heart of the revolutionary party, exaggerated the power of the Capital and the inactivity of the rest of France. He over-estimated both. But I am not sure that I, on my side, did not strain a point on the other side. The road we ought to follow seemed to me so clearly and visibly traced that I would not admit the possibility of deviating from it by mistake; it seemed obvious to me that we should hasten to profit by the moral force possessed by the Assembly in order to escape from the hands of the people, seize upon the government, and by a great effort establish it upon a solid basis. Every delay seemed to me calculated to diminish our power, and to strengthen the hand of our adversaries.
It was, in fact, during the six months that elapsed between the opening of the Assembly and the events of June that the Paris workmen grew bold, and took courage to resist, organized themselves, procured both arms and ammunition, and made their final preparations for the struggle. In any case, I am led to believe that it was Lamartine’s tergiversations and his semi-connivance with the enemy that saved us, while it ruined him. Their effect was to amuse the leaders of the Mountain, and to divide them. The Montagnards of the old school, who were retained in the Government, separated themselves from the Socialists, who were excluded from it. Had all been united by a common interest, and impelled by common despair before our victory, as they became since, it is doubtful whether that victory would have been won. When I consider that we were almost effaced, although we were opposed only by the revolutionary party without its leaders, I ask myself what the result of the contest would have been if those leaders had come forward, and if the insurrection had been supported by a third of the National Assembly.
Lamartine saw these dangers more closely and clearly than I, and I believe to-day that the fear of arousing a mortal conflict influenced his conduct as much as did his ambition. I might have formed this opinion at the time had I listened to Madame de Lamartine, whose alarm for the safety of her husband, and even of the Assembly, amounted to extravagance. “Beware,” she said to me, each time she met me, “beware of pushing things to extremes; you do not know the strength of the revolutionary party. If we enter into conflict with it, we shall perish.” I have often reproached myself for not cultivating Madame de Lamartine’s acquaintance, for I have always found her to possess real virtue, although she added to it almost all the faults which can cling to virtue, and which, without impairing it, render it less lovable: an imperious temper, great personal pride, an upright but unyielding, and sometimes bitter, spirit; so much so that it was impossible not to respect her, and impossible to like her.
THE 15TH OF MAY 1848.
The revolutionary party had not dared to oppose the meeting of the Assembly, but it refused to be dominated by it. On the contrary, it well understood how to keep the Assembly in subjection, and to obtain from it by constraint what it refused to grant from sympathy. Already the clubs rang with threats and insults against the deputies. And as the French, in their political passions, are as argumentative as they are insensible to argument, these popular meeting-places were incessantly occupied in manufacturing theories that formed the groundwork of subsequent acts of violence. It was held that the people always remained superior to its representatives, and never completely surrendered its will into their hands: a true principle from which the false conclusion was drawn that the Paris workmen were the French people. Since our first sitting, a vague and widespread agitation had never ceased to reign in the town. The mob met every day in the streets and squares; it spread aimlessly, like the swell of the waves. The approaches to the Assembly were always filled with a gathering of these redoubtable idlers. A demagogic party has so many heads, chance always plays so great, and reason so small, a part in its actions that it is almost impossible to say, either before or after the event, what it wants or what it wanted. Nevertheless, my opinion then was, and has since remained, that the leading demagogues did not aim at destroying the Assembly, and that, as yet, they only sought to make use of it by mastering it. The attack directed against it on the 15th of May seemed intended rather to frighten than to overthrow it; it was at least one of those equivocal enterprises which so frequently occur in times of popular excitement, in which the promoters themselves are careful not to trace or define precisely their plan or their aim, so as to remain free to limit themselves to a peaceful demonstration or force on a revolution, according to the incidents of the day.
Some attempt of this kind had been expected for over a week; but the habit of living in a continual state of alarm ends in rendering both individuals and assemblies incapable of discerning, amid the signs announcing the approach of danger, that which immediately precedes it. We only knew that there was a question of a great popular demonstration in favour of Poland, and we were but vaguely disturbed at it. Doubtless the members of the Government were better informed and more alarmed than we, but they kept their own counsel, and I was not sufficiently in touch with them to penetrate into their secret thoughts.
Thus it happened that, on the 15th of May, I reached the Assembly without foreseeing what was going to happen. The sitting began as any other sitting might have begun; and what was very strange, twenty thousand men already surrounded the chamber, without a single sound from the outside having announced their presence. Wolowski was in the tribune: he was mumbling between his teeth I know not what commonplaces about Poland, when the mob at last betrayed its approach with a terrible shout, which penetrated from every side through the upper windows, left open because of the heat, and fell upon us as though from the sky. Never had I imagined that a number of human voices could together produce so immense a volume of sound, and the sight of the crowd itself, when it surged into the Assembly, did not seem to me so formidable as that first roar which it had uttered before showing itself. Many members, yielding to a first impulse of curiosity or fear, sprang to their feet; others shouted violently, “Keep your seats!” Everyone sat down again firmly on his bench, and kept silence. Wolowski resumed his speech, and continued it for some time. It must have been the first time in his life that he was listened to in silence; and even now it was not he to whom we listened, but the crowd outside, whose murmurs grew momentarily louder and nearer.
Suddenly Degousée, one of our questors, solemnly mounted the steps of the tribune, silently pushed Wolowski aside, and said, “Contrary to the wishes of the questors, General Courtais has ordered the Gardes Mobiles guarding the doors of the Assembly to sheathe their bayonets.”
After uttering these few words he stopped. This Degousée, who was a very good man, had the most hang-dog look and the hollowest voice imaginable. The news, the man and the voice combined to create a curious impression. The Assembly was roused, but immediately grew calm again; it was too late to do anything: the chamber was forced.
Lamartine, who had gone out at the first noise, returned to the door with a disconcerted air; he crossed the central gangway and regained his seat with great strides, as though pursued by some enemy invisible to us. Almost immediately, there appeared behind him a number of men of the people, who stopped still on the threshold, surprised at the sight of this immense seated assembly. At the same moment, as on the 24th of February, the galleries were noisily opened and invaded by a flood of people, who filled and more than filled them. Pressed forward by the mob who followed and pushed them without seeing them, the first comers climbed over the balustrades of the galleries, trusting to find room in the Chamber itself, the floor of which was not more than ten feet beneath them, hung down along the walls, and dropped the distance of four or five feet into the Chamber. The fall of each of these bodies striking the floor in succession produced a dull concussion which at first, amid the tumult, I took for the distant sound of cannon. While one part of the mob was thus falling into the house, the other, composed principally of the club-leaders, entered by every door. They carried various emblems of the Terror, and waved flags of which some were surmounted by a red cap.
In an instant the mob had filled the large empty space in the centre of the Assembly; and finding itself pressed for room, it climbed all the little gangways leading to our benches, and crowded more and more into these narrow spaces without ceasing its agitation. Amid this tumultuous and incessant commotion, the dust became very thick and the heat so oppressive that perhaps I would have gone out to breathe some fresh air, had it been merely a question of the public interest. But honour kept us glued to our seats.
Some of the intruders were openly armed, others showed glimpses of concealed weapons, but none seemed to entertain a fixed intention of striking us. Their expression was one of astonishment and ill-will rather than enmity; with many of them a sort of vulgar curiosity in course of gratifying itself seemed to dominate every other sentiment; for even in our most sanguinary insurrections there are always a number of people half scoundrels, half sightseers, who fancy themselves at the play. Moreover, there was no common leader whom they seemed to obey; it was a mob of men, not a troop. I saw some drunken men among them, but the majority seemed to be the prey of a feverish excitement imparted to them by the enthusiasm and shouting without and the stifling heat, the close packing and general discomfort within. They dripped with sweat, although the nature and condition of their clothing was not calculated to make the heat very uncomfortable for them, for several were quite bare-breasted. There rose from this multitude a confused noise from the midst of which one sometimes heard very threatening observations. I caught sight of men who shook their fists at us and called us their agents. This expression was often repeated; for several days the ultra-democratic newspapers had done nothing but call the representatives the agents of the people, and these blackguards had taken kindly to the idea. A moment after, I had an opportunity of observing with what vivacity and clearness the popular mind receives and reflects images. I heard a man in a blouse, standing next to me, say to his fellow, “See that vulture down there? I should like to twist its neck.” I followed the movement of his arm and his eyes and saw without difficulty that he was speaking of Lacordaire, who was sitting in his Dominican’s frock on the top bench of the Left. The sentiment struck me as very unhandsome, but the comparison was admirable; the priest’s long, bony neck issuing from its white cowl, his bald head surrounded only with a tuft of black hair, his narrow face, his hooked nose and his fixed, glittering eyes really gave him a striking resemblance to the bird of prey in question.
During all this disorder in its midst, the Assembly sat passive and motionless on its benches, neither resisting nor giving way, silent and firm. A few members of the Mountain fraternized with the mob, but stealthily and in whispers. Raspail had taken possession of the tribune and was preparing to read the petition of the clubs; a young deputy, d’Adelsward, rose and exclaimed, “By what right does Citizen Raspail claim to speak here?” A furious howling arose; some men of the people made a rush at d’Adelsward, but were stopped and held back. With great difficulty, Raspail obtained a moment’s silence from his friends, and read the petition, or rather the orders, of the clubs, which enjoined us to pronounce forthwith in favour of Poland.
“No delay, we’re waiting for the answer!” was shouted on every side. The Assembly continued to give no sign of life; the mob, in its disorder and impatience, made a horrible noise, which by itself alone saved us from making a reply. Buchez, the President, whom some would make out to be a rascal and others a saint, but who undoubtedly, on that day, was a great blockhead, rang his bell with all his might to obtain silence, as though the silence of that multitude was not, under the present circumstances, more to be dreaded than its cries.
It was then that I saw appear, in his turn, in the tribune a man whom I have never seen since, but the recollection of whom has always filled me with horror and disgust. He had wan, emaciated cheeks, white lips, a sickly, wicked and repulsive expression, a dirty pallor, the appearance of a mouldy corpse; he wore no visible linen; an old black frock-coat tightly covered his lean, withered limbs; he seemed to have passed his life in a sewer, and to have just left it. I was told it was Blanqui.1
Blanqui said one word about Poland; then, turning sharply to domestic affairs, he asked for revenge for what he called the massacres of Rouen, recalled with threats the wretchedness in which the people had been left, and complained of the wrongs done to the latter by the Assembly. After thus exciting his hearers, he returned to Poland and, like Raspail, demanded an immediate vote.
The Assembly continued to sit motionless, the people to move about and utter a thousand contradictory exclamations, the President to ring his bell. Ledru-Rollin tried to persuade the mob to withdraw, but nobody was now able to exercise any influence over it. Ledru-Rollin, almost hooted, left the tribune.
The tumult was renewed, increased, multiplied itself as it were, for the mob was no longer sufficiently master of itself to be able even to understand the necessity for a moment’s self-restraint in order to attain the object of its passion. A long interval passed; at last Barbès darted up and climbed, or rather leapt, into the tribune. He was one of those men in whom the demagogue, the madman and the knight-errant are so closely intermingled that it is not possible to say where one ends or the other commences, and who can only make their way in a society as sick and troubled as ours. I am inclined to believe that it was the madman that predominated in him, and his madness became raging when he heard the voice of the people. His soul boiled as naturally amid popular passion as water does on the fire. Since our invasion by the mob, I had not taken my eyes from him; I considered him by far the most formidable of our adversaries, because he was the most insane, the most disinterested, and the most resolute of them all. I had seen him mount the platform on which the President sat, and stand for a long time motionless, only turning his agitated gaze about the Assembly; I had observed and pointed out to my neighbours the distortion of his features, his livid pallor, the convulsive excitement which caused him each moment to twist his moustache between his fingers; he stood there as the image of irresolution, leaning already towards an extreme side. This time, Barbès had made up his mind; he proposed in some way to sum up the passions of the people, and to make sure of victory by stating its object in terms of precision:
“I demand,” said he, in panting, jerking tones, “that, immediately and before rising, the Assembly shall vote the departure of an army for Poland, a tax of a milliard upon the rich, the removal of the troops from Paris, and shall forbid the beating to arms; if not, the representatives to be declared traitors to the country.”
I believe we should have been lost if Barbès had succeeded in getting his motion put to the vote; for if the Assembly had accepted it, it would have been dishonoured and powerless, whereas, if it had rejected it, which was probable, we should have run the risk of having our throats cut. But Barbès himself did not succeed in obtaining a brief space of silence so as to compel us to take a decision. The huge clamour that followed his last words was not to be appeased; on the contrary, it continued in a thousand varied intonations. Barbès exhausted himself in his efforts to still it, but in vain, although he was powerfully aided by the President’s bell, which, during all this time, never ceased to sound, like a knell.
This extraordinary sitting had lasted since two o’clock; the Assembly held out, its ears pricked up to catch any sound from the outside, waiting for assistance to come. But Paris seemed a dead city. Listen as we might, we heard no rumour issue from it.
This passive resistance irritated and incensed the people; it was like a cold, even surface upon which its fury glided without knowing what to catch hold of; it struggled and writhed in vain, without finding any issue to its undertaking. A thousand diverse and contradictory clamours filled the air: “Let us go away,” cried some. . . . “The organization of labour. . . . A ministry of labour. . . . A tax on the rich. . . . We want Louis Blanc!” cried others; they ended by fighting at the foot of the tribune to decide who should mount it; five or six orators occupied it at once, and often all spoke together. As always happens in insurrections, the terrible was mingled with the ridiculous. The heat was so stifling that many of the first intruders left the Chamber; they were forthwith replaced by others who had been waiting at the doors to come in. In this way I saw a fireman in uniform making his way down the gangway that passed along my bench. “We can’t make them vote!” they shouted to him. “Wait, wait,” he replied, “I’ll see to it, I’ll give them a piece of my mind.” Thereupon he pulled his helmet over his eyes with a determined air, fastened the straps, squeezed through the crowd, pushing aside all who stood in his way, and mounted the tribune. He imagined he would be as much at his ease there as upon a roof, but he could not find his words and stopped short. The people cried, “Speak up, fireman!” but he did not speak a word, and they ended by turning him out of the tribune. Just then a number of men of the people caught Louis Blanc in their arms and carried him in triumph round the Chamber. They held him by his little legs above their heads; I saw him make vain efforts to extricate himself: he twisted and turned on every side without succeeding in escaping from their hands, talking all the while in a choking, strident voice. He reminded me of a snake having its tail pinched. They put him down at last on a bench beneath mine. I heard him cry, “My friends, the right you have just won. . . .” but the remainder of his words were lost in the din. I was told that Sobrier was carried in the same way a little lower down.
A very tragic incident nearly put an end to these saturnalia: the benches at the bottom of the house suddenly cracked, gave way more than a foot, and threatened to hurl into the Chamber the crowd which overloaded it, and which fled off in affright. This alarming occurrence put a momentary stop to the commotion; and I then first heard, in the distance, the sound of drums beating the call to arms in Paris. The mob heard it too, and uttered a long yell of rage and terror. “Why are they beating to arms?” exclaimed Barbès, beside himself, making his way to the tribune afresh. “Who is beating to arms? Let those who have given the order be outlawed!” Cries of “We are betrayed, to arms! To the Hôtel de Ville!” rose from the crowd.
The President was driven from his chair, whence, if we are to believe the version he since gave, he caused himself to be driven voluntarily. A club-leader called Huber climbed to his seat and hoisted a flag surmounted by a red cap. The man had, it seemed, just recovered from a long epileptic swoon, caused doubtless by the excitement and the heat; it was on recovering from this sort of troubled sleep that he came forward. His clothes were still in disorder, his look scared and haggard. He exclaimed twice over in a resounding voice, which, uttered from aloft, filled the house and dominated every other sound, “In the name of the people, betrayed by its representatives, I declare the National Assembly dissolved!”
The Assembly, deprived of its President, broke up. Barbès and the bolder of the club politicians went out to go to the Hôtel de Ville. This conclusion to the affair was far from meeting the general wishes. I heard men of the people beside me say to each other, in an aggrieved tone, “No, no, that’s not what we want.” Many sincere Republicans were in despair. I was first accosted, amid this tumult, by Trétat, a revolutionary of the sentimental kind, a dreamer who had plotted in favour of the Republic during the whole existence of the Monarchy. Moreover, he was a physician of distinction, who was at that time at the head of one of the principal mad-houses in Paris, although he was a little cracked himself. He took my hands effusively, and with tears in his eyes:
“Ah, monsieur,” he said, “what a misfortune, and how strange it is to think that it is madmen, real madmen, who have brought this about! I have treated or prescribed for each one of them. Blanqui is a madman, Barbès is a madman, Sobrier is a madman, Huber is the greatest madman of them all: they are all madmen, monsieur, who ought to be locked up at my Salpétrière instead of being here.”
He would certainly have added his own name to the list, had he known himself as well as he knew his old friends. I have always thought that in revolutions, especially democratic revolutions, madmen, not those so called by courtesy, but genuine madmen, have played a very considerable political part. One thing at least is certain, and that is that a condition of semi-madness is not unbecoming at such times, and often even leads to success.
The Assembly had dispersed, but it will be readily believed that it did not consider itself dissolved. Nor did it even regard itself as defeated. The majority of the members who left the House did so with the firm intention of soon meeting again elsewhere; they said so to one another, and I am convinced that they were, in fact, quite resolved upon it. As for myself, I decided to stay behind, kept back partly by the feeling of curiosity that irresistibly retains me in places where anything uncommon is proceeding, and partly by the opinion which I held then, as I did on the 24th of February, that the strength of an assembly in a measure resides in the hall it occupies. I therefore remained and witnessed the grotesque and disorderly, but meaningless and uninteresting, scenes that followed. The mob set itself, amid a thousand disorders and a thousand cries, to form a Provisional Government. It was a parody of the 24th of February, just as the 24th of February was a parody of other revolutionary scenes. This had lasted some time, when I thought that among all the noise I heard an irregular sound coming from the outside of the Palace. I have a very quick ear, and I was not slow in distinguishing the sound of a drum approaching and beating the charge; for in our days of civil disorder, everyone has learnt to know the language of these warlike instruments. I at once hurried to the door by which these new arrivals would enter.
It was, in fact, a drum preceding some forty Gardes Mobiles. These lads pierced through the crowd with a certain air of resolution, although one could not clearly say at first what they proposed to do. Soon they disappeared from sight and remained as though submerged; but a short distance behind them marched a compact column of National Guards, who rushed into the House with significant shouts of “Long live the National Assembly!” I stuck my card of membership in my hat-band and entered with them. They first cleared the platform of five or six orators, who were at that moment speaking at once, and flung them, with none too great ceremony, down the steps of the little staircase that leads to it. At the sight of this, the insurgents at first made as though to resist; but a panic seized them. Climbing over the empty benches, tumbling over one another in the gangways, they made for the outer lobbies and sprang into the court-yards from every window. In a few minutes there remained only the National Guards, whose cries of “Long live the National Assembly” shook the walls of the Chamber.
The Assembly itself was absent; but little by little the members who had dispersed in the neighbourhood hastened up. They shook the hands of the National Guards, embraced each other, and regained their seats. The National Guards cried, “Long live the National Assembly!” and the members, “Long live the National Guard! and long live the Republic!”
No sooner was the hall recaptured, than General Courtais, the original author of our danger, had the incomparable impudence to present himself; the National Guards received him with yells of fury; he was seized and dragged to the foot of the rostrum. I saw him pass before my eyes, pale as a dying man among the flashing swords: thinking they would cut his throat, I cried with all my might, “Tear off his epaulettes, but don’t kill him!” which was done.
Then Lamartine reappeared. I never learnt how he had employed his time during the three hours wherein we were invaded. I had caught sight of him during the first hour: he was seated at that moment on a bench below mine, and he was combing his hair, glued together with perspiration, with a little comb he drew from his pocket; the crowd formed again and I saw him no more. Apparently he went to the inner rooms of the Palace, into which the mob had also penetrated, with the intention of haranguing it, and was very badly received. I was given, on the next day, some curious details of this scene, which I would have related here if I had not resolved to set down only what I have myself observed. They say that, subsequently, he withdrew to the palace then being built, close at hand, and destined for the Foreign Office. He would certainly have done better had he placed himself at the head of the National Guards and come to our release. I think he must have been seized with the faintness of heart that overcomes the bravest (and he was one of these) when possessed of a restless and lively imagination.
When he returned to the Chamber, he had recovered his energy and his eloquence. He told us that his place was not in the Assembly, but in the streets, and that he was going to march upon the Hôtel de Ville and crush the insurrection. This was the last time I heard him enthusiastically cheered. True, it was not he alone that they applauded, but the victory: those cheers and clappings were but an echo of the tumultuous passions that still agitated every breast. Lamartine went out. The drums, which had beat the charge half-an-hour before, now beat the march. The National Guards and the Gardes Mobiles, who were still with us in crowds, formed themselves into order and followed him. The Assembly, still very incomplete, resumed its sitting; it was six o’clock.
I went home an instant to take some food; I then returned to the Assembly, which had declared its sitting permanent. We soon learnt that the members of the new Provisional Government had been arrested. Barbès was impeached, as was that old fool of a Courtais, who deserved a sound thrashing and no more. Many wished to include Louis Blanc, who, however, had pluckily undertaken to defend himself; he had just escaped with difficulty from the fury of the National Guards at the door, and still wore his torn clothes, covered with dust and all disordered. This time he did not send for the stool on which he used to climb in order to bring his head above the level of the rostrum balustrade (for he was almost a dwarf); he even forgot the effect he wished to produce, and thought only of what he had to say. In spite of that, or rather because of that, he won his case for the moment. I never considered him to possess talent except on that one day; for I do not call talent the art of polishing brilliant and hollow phrases, which are like finely chased dishes containing nothing.
For the rest, I was so fatigued by the excitement of the day that I have retained but a dull, indistinct remembrance of the night sitting. I shall therefore say no more, for I wish only to record my personal impressions: for facts in detail it is the Moniteur, not I, that should be consulted.
THE FEAST OF CONCORD AND THE PREPARATIONS FOR THE DAYS OF JUNE.
The revolutionaries of 1848, unwilling or unable to imitate the bloodthirsty follies of their predecessors, consoled themselves by imitating their ludicrous follies. They took it into their heads to give the people a series of grand allegorical festivals.
Despite the terrible condition of the finances, the Provisional Government had decided that a sum of one or two millions should be spent upon celebrating the Feast of Concord in the Champ-de-Mars.
According to the programme, which was published in advance and faithfully followed out, the Champ-de-Mars was to be filled with figures representing all sorts of persons, virtues, political institutions, and even public services. France, Germany and Italy, hand in hand; Equality, Liberty and Fraternity, also hand in hand; Agriculture, Commerce, the Army, the Navy and, above all, the Republic; the last of colossal dimensions. A car was to be drawn by sixteen plough-horses: “this car,” said the programme aforesaid, “will be of a simple and rustic shape, and will carry three trees, an oak, a laurel, and an olive tree, symbolizing strength, honour, and plenty; and, moreover, a plough in the midst of a group of flowers and ears of corn. Ploughmen and young girls dressed in white will surround the car, singing patriotic hymns.” We were also promised oxen with gilded horns, but did not get them.
The National Assembly had not the smallest desire to see all these beautiful things; it even feared lest the immense gathering of people which was sure to be occasioned should produce some dangerous riot. Accordingly, it put the date as far back as possible; but the preparations were made, there was no possibility of going back from it, and the date was fixed for the 21st of May.
On that day I went early to the Assembly, which was to proceed on foot, in a body, to the Champ-de-Mars. I had put my pistols in my pockets, and in talking to my colleagues I discovered that most of them were secretly armed, like myself: one had taken a sword-stick, another a dagger; nearly all carried some weapon of defence. Edmond de La Fayette showed me a weapon of a peculiar kind. It was a ball of lead sewn into a short leathern thong which could easily be fastened to the arm: one might have called it a portable club. La Fayette declared that this little instrument was being widely carried by the National Assembly, especially since the 15th of May. It was thus that we proceeded to this Feast of Concord.
A sinister rumour ran that some great danger awaited the Assembly when it should cross through the crowd of the Champ-de-Mars and take up its place on the stage reserved for it outside the Military College. As a matter of fact, nothing could have been easier than to make it the object of an unexpected attack during this progress, which it made on foot and, so to speak, unguarded. Its real safeguard lay in the recollection of the 15th of May, and that sufficed. It very rarely happens, whatever opportunity may present itself, that a body is affronted the day after its triumph. Moreover, the French never do two things at a time. Their minds often change their object, but they are always devoted wholly to that occupying them at the moment, and I believe there is no precedent of their making an insurrection in the middle of a fête or even of a ceremony. On this day, therefore, the people seemed to enter willingly into the fictitious idea of its happiness, and for a moment to place on one side the recollection of its miseries and its hatreds. It was animated, without being turbulent. The programme had stated that a “fraternal confusion” was to prevail. There was, it is true, extreme confusion, but no disorder; for we are strange people: we cannot do without the police when we are orderly, and so soon as we start a revolution, the police seem superfluous. The sight of this popular joyfulness enraptured the moderate and sincere Republicans, and made them almost maudlin. Carnot observed to me, with that silliness which the honest democrat always mingles with his virtue:
“Believe me, my dear colleague, one should always trust the people.”
I remember rather brusquely replying, “Ah! why didn’t you tell me that before the 15th?”
The Executive Commission occupied one half of the immense stage that had been erected along the Military College, and the National Assembly the other. There first defiled past us the different emblems of all nations, which took an enormous time, because of the fraternal confusion of which the programme spoke. Then came the car, and then the young girls dressed in white. There were at least three hundred of them, who wore their virginal costume in so virile a fashion that they might have been taken for boys dressed up as girls. Each had been given a big bouquet to carry, which they were so gallant as to throw to us as they passed. As these gossips were the owners of very nervous arms, and were more accustomed, I should think, to using the laundress’s beetle than to strewing flowers, the bouquets fell down upon us in a very hard and uncomfortable hail-storm.
One tall girl left her companions and, stopping in front of Lamartine, recited an ode to his glory. Gradually she grew excited in talking, so much so that she pulled a terrible face and began to make the most alarming contortions. Never had enthusiasm seemed to me to come so near to epilepsy. When she had finished, the people insisted at all costs that Lamartine should kiss her; she offered him two fat cheeks, streaming with perspiration, which he touched with the tip of his lips and with indifferent bad grace.
The only serious portion of the fête was the review. I have never seen so many armed men in one spot in my life, and I believe that few have seen more. Apart from the innumerable crowd of sight-seers in the Champ-de-Mars, one saw an entire people under arms. The Moniteur estimated the number of National Guards and soldiers of the line who were there at three hundred thousand. This seemed to me to be exaggerated, but I do not think that the number could be reduced to less than two hundred thousand.
The spectacle of those two hundred thousand bayonets will never leave my memory. As the men who carried them were tightly pressed against one another, so as to be able to keep within the slopes of the Champ-de-Mars, and as we, from our but slightly raised position, could only throw an almost horizontal glance upon them, they formed, to our eyes, a flat and lightly undulating surface, which flashed in the sun and made the Champ-de-Mars resemble a great lake filled with liquid steel.
All these men marched past us in succession, and we noticed that this army numbered many more muskets than uniforms. Only the legions from the wealthier parts of the town presented a large number of National Guards clad in military uniform. They were the first to appear, and shouted, “Long live the National Assembly!” with much enthusiasm. In the legions from the suburbs, which formed in themselves veritable armies, one saw little but jackets and blouses, though this did not prevent them from marching with a very warlike aspect. Most of them, as they passed us, were content to shout, “Long live the Democratic Republic!” or to sing the Marseillaise or the song of the Girondins. Next came the legions of the outskirts, composed of peasants, badly equipped, badly armed, and dressed in blouses like the workmen of the suburbs, but filled with a very different spirit to that of the latter, as they showed by their cries and gestures. The battalions of the Garde Mobile uttered various exclamations, which left us full of doubt and anxiety as to the intention of these lads, or rather children, who at that time more than any other held our destinies in their hands.
The regiments of the line, who closed the review, marched past in silence.
I witnessed this long parade with a heart filled with sadness. Never at any time had so many arms been placed at once into the hands of the people. It will be easily believed that I shared neither the simple confidence nor the stupid happiness of my friend Carnot; I foresaw, on the contrary, that all the bayonets I saw glittering in the sun would soon be raised against each other, and I felt that I was at a review of the two armies of the civil war that was just concluded. In the course of that day I still heard frequent shouts of “Long live Lamartine!” although his great popularity was already waning. In fact, one might say it was over, were it not that in every crowd one meets with a large number of belated individuals who are stirred with the enthusiasm of yesterday, like the provincials who begin to adopt the Paris mode on the day when the Parisians abandon it.
Lamartine hastened to withdraw from this last ray of his sun: he retired long before the ceremony was finished. He looked weary and care-worn. Many members of the Assembly, also overcome with fatigue, followed his example, and the review ended in front of almost empty benches. It had begun early and ended at night-fall.
The whole time elapsing between the review of the 21st of May and the days of June was filled with the anxiety caused by the approach of these latter days. Every day fresh alarms came and called out the army and the National Guard; the artisans and shopkeepers no longer lived at home, but in the public places and under arms. Each one fervently desired to avoid the necessity of a conflict, and all vaguely felt that this necessity was becoming more inevitable from day to day. The National Assembly was so constantly possessed by this thought that one might have said that it read the words “Civil War” written on the four walls of the House.
On all sides great efforts of prudence and patience were being made to prevent, or at least delay, the crisis. Members who in their hearts were most hostile to the revolution were careful to restrain any expressions of sympathy or antipathy; the old parliamentary orators were silent, lest the sound of their voices should give umbrage; they left the rostrum to the new-comers, who themselves but rarely occupied it, for the great debates had ceased. As is common in all assemblies, that which most disturbed the members’ minds was that of which they spoke least, though it was proved that each day they thought of it. All sorts of measures to help the misery of the people were proposed and discussed. We even entered readily into an examination of the different socialistic systems, and each strove in all good faith to discover in these something applicable to, or at least compatible with, the ancient laws of Society.
During this time, the national workshops continued to fill; their population already exceeded one hundred thousand men. It was felt that we could not live if they were kept on, and it was feared that we should perish if we tried to dismiss them. This burning question of the national workshops was treated daily, but superficially and timidly; it was constantly touched upon, but never firmly taken in hand.
On the other hand, it was clear that, outside the Assembly, the different parties, while dreading the contest, were actively preparing for it. The wealthy legions of the National Guard offered banquets to the army and to the Garde Mobile, in which they mutually urged each other to unite for the common defence.
The workmen of the suburbs, on their side, were secretly amassing that great number of cartridges which enabled them later to sustain so long a contest. As to the muskets, the Provisional Government had taken care that these should be supplied in profusion; one could safely say that there was not a workman who did not possess at least one, and sometimes several.
The danger was perceived afar off as well as near at hand. The provinces grew indignant and irritated with Paris; for the first time for sixty years they ventured to entertain the idea of resisting it; the people armed themselves and encouraged each other to come to the assistance of the Assembly; they sent it thousands of addresses congratulating it on its victory of the 15th of May. The ruin of commerce, universal war, the dread of Socialism made the Republic more and more hateful in the eyes of the provinces. This hatred manifested itself especially beneath the secrecy of the ballot. The electors were called upon to re-elect in twenty-one departments; and in general they elected the men who in their eyes represented the Monarchy in some form or other. M. Molé was elected at Bordeaux, and M. Thiers at Rouen.
It was then that suddenly, for the first time, the name of Louis Napoleon came into notice. The Prince was elected at the same time in Paris and in several departments. Republicans, Legitimists and demagogues gave him their votes; for the nation at that time was like a frightened flock of sheep, which runs in all directions without following any road. I little thought, when I heard that Louis Napoleon had been nominated, that exactly a year later I should be his minister. I confess that I beheld the return of the old parliamentary leaders with considerable apprehension and regret; not that I failed to do justice to their talent and discretion, but I feared lest their approach should drive back towards the Mountain the moderate Republicans who were coming towards us. Moreover, I knew them too well not to see that, so soon as they had returned to political life, they would wish to lead it, and that it would not suit them to save the country unless they could govern it. Now an enterprise of this sort seemed to me both premature and dangerous. Our duty and theirs was to assist the moderate Republicans to govern the Republic without seeking to govern it indirectly ourselves, and especially without appearing to have this in view.
For my part, I never doubted but that we were on the eve of a terrible struggle; nevertheless, I did not fully understand our danger until after a conversation that I had about this time with the celebrated Madame Sand. I met her at an Englishman’s of my acquaintance: Milnes,1 a member of Parliament, who was then in Paris. Milnes was a clever fellow who did and, what is rarer, said many foolish things. What a number of those faces I have seen in my life of which one can say that the two profiles are not alike: men of sense on one side, fools on the other. I have always seen Milnes infatuated with something or somebody. This time he was smitten with Madame Sand, and notwithstanding the seriousness of events, had insisted on giving her a literary déjeûner. I was present at this repast, and the image of the days of June, which followed so closely after, far from effacing the remembrance of it from my mind, recalls it.
The company was anything but homogeneous. Besides Madame Sand, I met a young English lady, very modest and very agreeable, who must have found the company invited to meet her somewhat singular; some more or less obscure writers; and Mérimée. Milnes placed me next to Madame Sand. I had never spoken to her, and I doubt whether I had ever seen her (I had lived little in the world of literary adventurers which she frequented). One of my friends asked her one day what she thought of my book on America, and she answered, “Monsieur, I am only accustomed to read the books which are presented to me by their authors.” I was strongly prejudiced against Madame Sand, for I loathe women who write, especially those who systematically disguise the weaknesses of their sex, instead of interesting us by displaying them in their true character. Nevertheless, she pleased me. I thought her features rather massive, but her expression admirable: all her mind seemed to have taken refuge in her eyes, abandoning the rest of her face to matter; and I was particularly struck at meeting in her with something of the naturalness of behaviour of great minds. She had a real simplicity of manner and language, which she mingled, perhaps, with some little affectation of simplicity in her dress. I confess that, more adorned, she would have appeared still more simple. We talked for a whole hour of public affairs; it was impossible to talk of anything else in those days. Besides, Madame Sand at that time was a sort of politician, and what she said on the subject struck me greatly; it was the first time that I had entered into direct and familiar communication with a person able and willing to tell me what was happening in the camp of our adversaries. Political parties never know each other: they approach, touch, seize, but never see one another. Madame Sand depicted to me, in great detail and with singular vivacity, the condition of the Paris workmen, their organization, their numbers, their arms, their preparations, their thoughts, their passions, their terrible resolves. I thought the picture overloaded, but it was not, as subsequent events clearly proved. She seemed to be alarmed for herself at the popular triumph, and to take the greatest pity upon the fate that awaited us.
“Try to persuade your friends, monsieur,” she said, “not to force the people into the streets by alarming or irritating them. I also wish that I could instil patience into my own friends; for if it comes to a fight, believe me, you will all be killed.”
With these consoling words we parted, and I have never seen her since.
THE DAYS OF JUNE.
I come at last to the insurrection of June, the most extensive and the most singular that has occurred in our history, and perhaps in any other: the most extensive, because, during four days, more than a hundred thousand men were engaged in it; the most singular, because the insurgents fought without a war-cry, without leaders, without flags, and yet with a marvellous harmony and an amount of military experience that astonished the oldest officers.
What distinguished it also, among all the events of this kind which have succeeded one another in France for sixty years, is that it did not aim at changing the form of government, but at altering the order of society. It was not, strictly speaking, a political struggle, in the sense which until then we had given to the word, but a combat of class against class, a sort of Servile War. It represented the facts of the Revolution of February in the same manner as the theories of Socialism represented its ideas; or rather it issued naturally from these ideas, as a son does from his mother. We behold in it nothing more than a blind and rude, but powerful, effort on the part of the workmen to escape from the necessities of their condition, which had been depicted to them as one of unlawful oppression, and to open up by main force a road towards that imaginary comfort with which they had been deluded. It was this mixture of greed and false theory which first gave birth to the insurrection and then made it so formidable. These poor people had been told that the wealth of the rich was in some way the produce of a theft practised upon themselves. They had been assured that the inequality of fortunes was as opposed to morality and the welfare of society as it was to nature. Prompted by their needs and their passions, many had believed this obscure and erroneous notion of right, which, mingled with brute force, imparted to the latter an energy, a tenacity and a power which it would never have possessed unaided.
It must also be observed that this formidable insurrection was not the enterprise of a certain number of conspirators, but the revolt of one whole section of the population against another. Women took part in it as well as men. While the latter fought, the former prepared and carried ammunition; and when at last the time had come to surrender, the women were the last to yield. These women went to battle with, as it were, a housewifely ardour: they looked to victory for the comfort of their husbands and the education of their children. They took pleasure in this war as they might have taken pleasure in a lottery.
As to the strategic science displayed by this multitude, the warlike nature of the French, their long experience of insurrections, and particularly the military education which the majority of the men of the people in turn receive, suffice to explain it. Half of the Paris workmen have served in our armies, and they are always glad to take up arms again. Generally speaking, old soldiers abound in our riots. On the 24th of February, when Lamoricière was surrounded by his foes, he twice owed his life to insurgents who had fought under him in Africa, men in whom the recollection of their military life had been stronger than the fury of civil war.
As we know, it was the closing of the national workshops that occasioned the rising. Dreading to disband this formidable soldiery at one stroke, the Government had tried to disperse it by sending part of the workmen into the country. They refused to leave. On the 22nd of June, they marched through Paris in troops, singing in cadence, in a monotonous chant, “We won’t be sent away, we won’t be sent away . . . .” Their delegates waited upon the members of the Committee of the Executive Power with a series of arrogant demands, and on meeting with a refusal, withdrew with the announcement that next day they would have recourse to arms. Everything, indeed, tended to show that the long-expected crisis had come.
When this news reached the Assembly it caused the greatest alarm. Nevertheless, the Assembly did not interrupt its order of the day; it continued the discussion of a commercial act, and even listened to it, despite its excited condition; true, it was a very important question and a very eminent orator was speaking. The Government had proposed to acquire all the railways by purchase. Montalembert opposed it; his case was good, but his speech was excellent; I do not think I ever heard him speak so well before or since. As a matter of fact, I thought as he did, this time; but I believe that, even in the eyes of his adversaries, he surpassed himself. He made a vigorous attack without being as peevish and outrageous as usual. A certain fear tempered his natural insolence, and set a limit to his paradoxical and querulous humour; for, like so many other men of words, he had more temerity of language than stoutness of heart.
The sitting concluded without any question as to what was occurring outside, and the Assembly adjourned.
On the 23rd, on going to the Assembly, I saw a large number of omnibuses grouped round the Madeleine. This told me that they were beginning to erect barricades in the streets; which was confirmed on my arrival at the Palace. Nevertheless, a doubt was expressed whether it was seriously contemplated to resort to arms. I resolved to go and assure myself of the real state of things, and, with Corcelles, repaired to the neighbourhood of the Hôtel de Ville. In all the little streets surrounding that building, I found the people engaged in making barricades; they proceeded in their work with the cunning and regularity of an engineer, not unpaving more stones than were necessary to lay the foundations of a very thick, solid and even neatly-built wall, in which they generally left a small opening by the side of the houses to permit of ingress and egress. Eager for quicker information as to the state of the town, Corcelles and I agreed to separate. He went one way and I the other; and his excursion very nearly turned out badly. He told me afterwards that, after crossing several half-built barricades without impediment, he was stopped at the last one. The men of the lower orders who were building it, seeing a fine gentleman, in black clothes and very white linen, quietly trotting through the dirty streets round the Hôtel de Ville and stopping before them with a placid and inquisitive air, thought they would make use of this suspicious onlooker. They called upon him, in the name of the brotherhood, to assist them in their work. Corcelles was as brave as Cæsar, but he rightly judged that, under these circumstances, there was nothing better to be done than to give way quietly. See him therefore lifting paving-stones and placing them as neatly as possible one atop the other. His natural awkwardness and his absent-mindedness fortunately came to his aid; and he was soon sent about his business as a useless workman.
To me no such adventure happened. I passed through the streets of the Saint-Martin and Saint-Denis quarters without coming across any barricades to speak of; but the excitement was extraordinary. On my return I met, in the Rue des Jeûneurs, a National Guard covered with blood and fragments of brain. He was very pale and was going home. I asked him what was happening; he told me that his battalion had just received the full force of a very murderous discharge of musketry at the Porte Saint-Denis. One of his comrades, whose name he mentioned to me, had been killed by his side, and he was covered with the blood and brains of this unhappy man.
I returned to the Assembly, astonished at not having met a single soldier in the whole distance which I had traversed. It was not till I came in front of the Palais-Bourbon that I at last perceived great columns of infantry, marching, followed by cannon.
Lamoricière, in full uniform and on horseback, was at their head. I have never seen a figure more resplendent with aggressive passion and almost with joy; and whatever may have been the natural impetuosity of his humour, I doubt whether it was that alone which urged him at that moment, and whether there was not mingled with it an eagerness to avenge himself for the dangers and outrages he had undergone.
“What are you doing?” I asked him. “They have already been fighting at the Porte Saint-Denis, and barricades are being built all round the Hôtel de Ville.”
“Patience,” he replied, “we are going there. Do you think we are such fools as to scatter our soldiers on such a day as this over the small streets of the suburbs? No, no! we shall let the insurgents concentrate in the quarters which we can’t keep them out of, and then we will go and destroy them. They sha’n’t escape us this time.”
As I reached the Assembly, a terrible storm broke, which flooded the town. I entertained a slight hope that this bad weather would get us out of our difficulties for the day, and it would, indeed, have been enough to put a stop to an ordinary riot; for the people of Paris need fine weather to fight in, and are more afraid of rain than of grape-shot. But I soon lost this hope: each moment the news became more distressing. The Assembly found difficulty in resuming its ordinary work. Agitated, though not overcome, by the excitement outside, it suspended the order of the day, returned to it, and finally suspended it for good, giving itself over to the preoccupations of the civil war. Different members came and described from the rostrum what they had seen in Paris. Others suggested various courses of action. Falloux, in the name of the Committee of Public Assistance, proposed a decree dissolving the national workshops, and received applause. Time was wasted with empty conversations, empty speeches. Nothing was known for certain; they kept on calling for the attendance of the Executive Commission, to inform them of the state of Paris, but the latter did not appear. There is nothing more pitiful than the spectacle of an assembly in a moment of crisis, when the Government itself fails it; it resembles a man still full of will and passion, but impotent, and tossing childishly amid the helplessness of his limbs. At last appeared two members of the Executive Commission; they announced that affairs were in a perilous condition, but that, nevertheless, it was hoped to crush the insurrection before night. The Assembly declared its sitting permanent, and adjourned till the evening.
When the sitting was resumed, we learnt that Lamartine had been received with shots at all the barricades he attempted to approach. Two of our colleagues, Bixio and Dornès, had been mortally wounded when trying to address the insurgents. Bedeau had been shot through the thigh at the entrance to the Faubourg Saint-Jacques, and a number of officers of distinction were already killed or dangerously wounded. One of our members, Victor Considérant, spoke of making concessions to the workmen. The Assembly, which was tumultuous and disturbed, but not weak, revolted at these words: “Order, order!” they cried on every side, with a sort of rage, “it will be time to talk of that after the victory!” The rest of the evening and a portion of the night were spent in vaguely talking, listening, and waiting. About midnight, Cavaignac appeared. The Executive Commission had since that afternoon placed the whole military power in his hands. In a hoarse and jerky voice, and in simple and precise words, Cavaignac detailed the principal incidents of the day. He stated that he had given orders to all the regiments posted along the railways to converge upon Paris, and that all the National Guards of the outskirts had been called out; he concluded by telling us that the insurgents had been beaten back to the barriers, and that he hoped soon to have mastered the city. The Assembly, exhausted with fatigue, left its officials sitting in permanence, and adjourned until eight o’clock the next morning.
When, on quitting this turbulent scene, I found myself at one in the morning on the Pont Royal, and from there beheld Paris wrapped in darkness, and calm as a city asleep, it was with difficulty that I persuaded myself that all that I had seen and heard since the morning had existed in reality and was not a pure creation of my brain. The streets and squares which I crossed were absolutely deserted; not a sound, not a cry; one would have said that an industrious population, fatigued with its day’s work, was resting before resuming the peaceful labours of the morrow. The serenity of the night ended by over-mastering me; I brought myself to believe that we had triumphed already, and on reaching home I went straight to sleep.
I woke very early in the morning. The sun had risen some time before, for we were in the midst of the longest days of the year. On opening my eyes, I heard a sharp, metallic sound, which shook the window-panes and immediately died out amid the silence of Paris.
“What is that?” I asked.
My wife replied, “It is the cannon; I have heard it for over an hour, but would not wake you, for I knew you would want your strength during the day.”
I dressed hurriedly and went out. The drums were beating to arms on every side: the day of the great battle had come at last. The National Guards left their homes under arms; all those I met seemed full of energy, for the sound of cannon, which brought the brave ones out, kept the others at home. But they were in bad humour: they thought themselves either badly commanded or betrayed by the Executive Power, against which they uttered terrible imprecations. This extreme distrust of its leaders on the part of the armed force seemed to me an alarming symptom. Continuing on my way, at the entrance to the Rue Saint-Honoré, I met a crowd of workmen anxiously listening to the cannon. These men were all in blouses, which, as we know, constitute their fighting as well as their working clothes; nevertheless, they had no arms, but one could see by their looks that they were quite ready to take them up. They remarked, with a hardly restrained joy, that the sound of the firing seemed to come nearer, which showed that the insurrection was gaining ground. I had augured before this that the whole of the working class was engaged, either in fact or in spirit, in the struggle; and this confirmed my suspicions. The spirit of insurrection circulated from one end to the other of this immense class, and in each of its parts, as the blood does in the body; it filled the quarters where there was no fighting, as well as those which served as the scene of battle; it had penetrated into our houses, around, above, below us. The very places in which we thought ourselves the masters swarmed with domestic enemies; one might say that an atmosphere of civil war enveloped the whole of Paris, amid which, to whatever part we withdrew, we had to live; and in this connection I shall violate the law I had imposed upon myself never to speak upon the word of another, and will relate a fact which I learnt a few days later from my colleague Blanqui.1 Although very trivial, I consider it very characteristic of the physiognomy of the time. Blanqui had brought up from the country and taken into his house, as a servant, the son of a poor man, whose wretchedness had touched him. On the evening of the day on which the insurrection began, he heard this lad say, as he was clearing the table after dinner, “Next Sunday [it was Thursday then] we shall be eating the wings of the chicken;” to which a little girl who worked in the house replied, “And we shall be wearing fine silk dresses.” Could anything give a better idea of the general state of minds than this childish scene? And to complete it, Blanqui was very careful not to seem to hear these little monkeys: they really frightened him. It was not until after the victory that he ventured to send back the ambitious pair to their hovels.
At last I reached the Assembly. The representatives were gathered in crowds, although the time appointed for the sitting was not yet come. The sound of the cannon had attracted them. The Palace had the appearance of a fortified town: battalions were encamped around, and guns were levelled at all the approaches leading to it.
I found the Assembly very determined, but very ill at ease; and it must be confessed there was enough to make it so. It was easy to perceive through the multitude of contradictory reports that we had to do with the most universal, the best armed, and the most furious insurrection ever known in Paris. The national workshops and various revolutionary bands that had just been disbanded supplied it with trained and disciplined soldiers and with leaders. It was extending every moment, and it was difficult to believe that it would not end by being victorious, when one remembered that all the great insurrections of the last sixty years had triumphed. To all these enemies we were only able to oppose the battalions of the bourgeoisie, regiments which had been disarmed in February, and twenty thousand undisciplined lads of the Garde Mobile, who were all sons, brothers, or near relations of insurgents, and whose dispositions were doubtful.
But what alarmed us most was our leaders. The members of the Executive Commission filled us with profound distrust. On this subject I encountered, in the Assembly, the same feelings which I had observed among the National Guard. We doubted the good faith of some and the capacity of others. They were too numerous, besides, and too much divided to be able to act in complete harmony, and they were too much men of speech and the pen to be able to act to good purpose under such circumstances, even if they had agreed among themselves.
Nevertheless, we succeeded in triumphing over this so formidable insurrection; nay more, it was just that which rendered it so terrible which saved us. One might well apply in this case the famous phrase of the Prince de Condé, during the wars of religion: “We should have been destroyed, had we not been so near destruction.” Had the revolt borne a less radical character and a less ferocious aspect, it is probable that the greater part of the middle class would have stayed at home; France would not have come to our aid; the National Assembly itself would perhaps have yielded, or at least a minority of its members would have advised it; and the energy of the whole body would have been greatly unnerved. But the insurrection was of such a nature that any commerce with it became at once impossible, and from the first it left us no alternative but to defeat it or to be destroyed ourselves.
The same reason prevented any man of consideration from placing himself at its head. In general, insurrections—I mean even those which succeed—begin without a leader; but they always end by securing one. This insurrection finished without having found one; it embraced every class of the populace, but never passed those limits. Even the Montagnards in the Assembly did not dare pronounce in its favour. Several pronounced against it. They did not even yet despair of attaining their ends by other means; they feared, moreover, that the triumph of the workmen would soon prove fatal to them. The greedy, blind and vulgar passions which induced the populace to take up arms alarmed them; for these passions are as dangerous to those who sympathize with them, without utterly abandoning themselves to them, as to those who reprove and combat them. The only men who could have placed themselves at the head of the insurgents had allowed themselves to be prematurely taken, like fools, on the 15th of May; and they only heard the sound of the conflict through the walls of the dungeon of Vincennes.
Preoccupied though I was with public affairs, I continued to be distressed with the uneasiness which my young nephews once more caused me. They had been sent back to the Little Seminary, and I feared that the insurrection must come pretty near, if it had not already reached, the place where they lived. As their parents were not in Paris, I decided to go and fetch them, and I accordingly again traversed the long distance separating the Palais-Bourbon from the Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs. I came across a few barricades erected during the night by the forlorn hope of the insurrection; but these had been either abandoned or captured at daybreak.
All these quarters resounded with a devilish music, a mixture of drums and trumpets, whose rough, discordant, savage notes were new to me. In fact, I heard for the first time—and I have never heard it since—the rally, which it had been decided should never be beaten except in extreme cases and to call the whole population at once to arms. Everywhere National Guards were issuing from the houses; everywhere stood groups of workmen in blouses, listening with a sinister air to the rally and the cannon. The fighting had not yet reached so far as the Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, although it was very near it. I took my nephews with me, and returned to the Chamber.
As I approached, and when I was already in the midst of the troops which guarded it, an old woman, pushing a barrow full of vegetables, obstinately barred my progress. I ended by telling her pretty curtly to make way. Instead of doing so, she left her barrow and flew at me in such a frenzy that I had great difficulty in protecting myself. I was horrified at the hideous and frightful expression of her face, on which were depicted all the fury of demagogic passion and the rage of civil war. I mention this little fact because I beheld in it, and with good cause, an important symptom. In violently critical times, even actions which have nothing to do with politics assume a singular character of anger and disorder, which does not escape the attentive eye, and which is an unfailing index of the general state of mind. These great public excitements form a sort of glowing atmosphere in which all private passions seethe and bubble.
I found the Assembly agitated by a thousand sinister reports. The insurrection was gaining ground in every direction. Its head-quarters, or, so to speak, its trunk, was behind the Hôtel de Ville, whence it stretched its long arms further and further to right and left into the suburbs, and threatened soon to hug even us. The cannon was drawing appreciably nearer. And to this correct news were added a thousand lying rumours. Some said that our troops were running short of ammunition; others, that a number of them had laid down their arms or gone over to the insurgents.
M. Thiers asked Barrot, Dufaure, Rémusat, Lanjuinais and myself to follow him to a private room. There he said:
“I know something of insurrections, and I tell you this is the worst I have ever seen. The insurgents may be here within an hour, and we shall be butchered one and all. Do you not think that it would be well for us to agree to propose to the Assembly, so soon as we think necessary and before it becomes too late, that it should call back the troops around it, in order that, placed in their midst, we may all leave Paris together and remove the seat of the Republic to a place where we could summon the army and all the National Guards in France to our assistance?”
He said this in very eager tones and with a greater display of excitement than is, perhaps, advisable in the presence of great danger. I saw that he was pursued by the ghost of February. Dufaure, who had a less vivid imagination, and who, moreover, never readily made up his mind to associate himself with people he did not care about, even to save himself, phlegmatically and somewhat sarcastically explained that the time had not yet come to discuss a plan of this kind; that we could always talk of it later on; that our chances did not seem to him so desperate as to oblige us to entertain so extreme a remedy; that to entertain it was to weaken ourselves. He was undoubtedly right, and his words broke up the consultation. I at once wrote a few lines to my wife, telling her that the danger was hourly increasing, that Paris would perhaps end by falling entirely into the power of the revolt, and that, in that case, we should be obliged to leave it in order to carry on the civil war elsewhere. I charged her to go at once to Saint-Germain by the railroad, which was still free, and there to await my news; told my nephews to take the letter; and returned to the Assembly. I found them discussing a decree to proclaim Paris in a state of siege, to abolish the powers of the Executive Commission, and to replace it by a military dictatorship under General Cavaignac.
The Assembly knew precisely that this was what it wanted. The thing was easily done: it was urgent, and yet it was not done. Each moment some little incident, some trivial motion interrupted and turned aside the current of the general wish; for assemblies are very liable to that sort of nightmare in which an unknown and invisible force seems always at the last moment to interpose between the will and the deed and to prevent the one from influencing the other. Who would have thought that it was Bastide who should eventually induce the Assembly to make up its mind? Yet he it was.
I had heard him say—and it was very true—speaking of himself, that he was never able to remember more than the first fifteen words of a speech. But I have sometimes observed that men who do not know how to speak produce a greater impression, under certain circumstances, than the finest orators. They bring forward but a single idea, that of the moment, clothed in a single phrase, and somehow they lay it down in the rostrum like an inscription written in big letters, which everybody perceives, and in which each instantly recognizes his own particular thought. Bastide, then, displayed his long, honest, melancholy face in the tribune, and said, with a mournful air:
“Citizens, in the name of the country, I beseech you to vote as quickly as possible. We are told that perhaps within an hour the Hôtel de Ville will be taken.”
These few words put an end to debate, and the decree was voted in the twinkling of an eye.
I protested against the clause proclaiming Paris in a state of siege; I did so by instinct rather than reflection. I have such a contempt and so great a natural horror for military despotism that these feelings came rising tumultuously in my breast when I heard a state of siege suggested, and even dominated those prompted by our peril. In this I made a mistake in which I fortunately found few to imitate me.
The friends of the Executive Commission have asserted in very bitter terms that their adversaries and the partisans of General Cavaignac spread ominous rumours on purpose to precipitate the vote. If the latter did really resort to this trick, I gladly pardon them, for the measures they caused to be taken were indispensable to the safety of the country.
Before adopting the decree of which I have spoken, the Assembly unanimously voted another, which declared that the families of those who should fall in the struggle should receive a pension from the Treasury and their children be adopted by the Republic.
It was decided that sixty members of the Chamber, appointed by the committees, should spread themselves over Paris, inform the National Guards of the different decrees issued by the Assembly, and re-establish their confidence, which was said to be uncertain and discouraged. In the committee to which I belonged, instead of immediately appointing commissioners, they began an endless discussion on the uselessness and danger of the resolution adopted. In this manner a great deal of time was lost. I ended by stopping this ludicrous chatter with a word. “Gentlemen,” I said, “the Assembly may have been mistaken; but permit me to observe that, having passed a two-fold resolution, it would be a disgrace for it to draw back, and a disgrace for us not to submit.”
They voted on the spot; and I was unanimously elected a commissioner, as I expected. My colleagues were Cormenin and Crémieux, to whom they added Goudchaux. The latter was then not so well known, although in his own way he was the most original of them all. He was at once a Radical and a banker, a rare combination; and by dint of his business occupations, he had succeeded by covering with a few reasonable ideas the foundation of his mind, which was filled with mad theories that always ended by making their way to the top. It was impossible to be vainer, more irascible, more quarrelsome, petulant or excitable than he. He was unable to discuss the difficulties of the Budget without shedding tears; and yet he was one of the valiantest little men it was possible to meet.
Thanks to the stormy discussion in our committee, the other deputations had already left, and with them the guides and the escort who were to have accompanied us. Nevertheless, we set out, after putting on our scarves, and turned our steps alone and a little at hazard towards the interior of Paris, along the right bank of the Seine. By that time the insurrection had made such progress that one could see the cannon drawn up in line and firing between the Pont des Arts and the Pont Neuf. The National Guards, who saw us from the top of the embankment, looked at us with anxiety; they respectfully took off their hats, and said in an undertone, and with grief-stricken accents, “Long live the National Assembly!” No noisy cheers uttered at the sight of a king ever came more visibly from the heart, or pointed to a more unfeigned sympathy. When we had passed through the gates and were on the Carrousel, I saw that Cormenin and Crémieux were imperceptibly making for the Tuileries, and I heard one of them, I forget which, say:
“Where can we go? And what can we do of any use without guides? Is it not best to content ourselves with going through the Tuileries gardens? There are several battalions of the reserve stationed there; we will inform them of the decrees of the Assembly.”
“Certainly,” replied the other; “I even think we shall be executing the Assembly’s instructions better than our colleagues; for what can one say to people already engaged in action? It is the reserves that we should prepare to fall into line in their turn.”
I have always thought it rather interesting to follow the involuntary movements of fear in clever people. Fools coarsely display their cowardice in all its nakedness; but the others are able to cover it with a veil so delicate, so daintily woven with small, plausible lies, that there is some pleasure to be found in contemplating this ingenious work of the brain.
As may be supposed, I was in no humour for a stroll in the Tuileries gardens. I had set out in none too good a temper; but it was no good crying over spilt milk. I therefore pointed out to Goud-chaux the road our colleagues had taken.
“I know,” he said, angrily; “I shall leave them and I will make public the decrees of the Assembly without them.”
Together we made for the gate opposite. Cormenin and Crémieux soon rejoined us, a little ashamed of their attempt. Thus we reached the Rue Saint-Honoré, the appearance of which was perhaps what struck me most during the days of June. This noisy, populous street was at this moment more deserted than I had ever seen it at four o’clock on a winter morning. As far as the eye could reach, we perceived not a living soul; the shops, doors and windows were hermetically closed. Nothing was visible, nothing stirred; we heard no sound of a wheel, no clatter of a horse, no human footstep, but only the voice of the cannon, which seemed to resound through an abandoned city. Yet the houses were not empty; for as we walked on, we could catch glimpses at the windows of women and children who, with their faces glued to the panes, watched us go by with an affrighted air.
At last, near the Palais-Royal, we met some large bodies of National Guards, and our mission commenced. When Crémieux saw that it was only a question of talking, he became all ardour; he told them of what had happened at the National Assembly, and held forth to them in a little bravura speech which was heartily applauded. We found an escort there, and passed on. We wandered a long time through the little streets of that district, until we came in front of the great barricade of the Rue Rambuteau, which was not yet taken and which stopped our further progress. From there we came back again through all those little streets, which were covered with blood from the recent combats: they were still fighting from time to time. For it was a war of ambuscades, whose scene was not fixed but every moment changed. When one least expected it, one was shot at through a garret window; and on breaking into the house, one found the gun but not the marksman: the latter escaped by a back-door while the front-door was being battered in. For this reason the National Guards had orders to have all the shutters opened, and to fire on all those who showed themselves at the windows; and they obeyed these orders so literally that they narrowly escaped killing several merely inquisitive people whom the sight of our scarves tempted to put their noses outside.
During this walk of two or three hours, we had to make at least thirty speeches; I refer to Crémieux and myself, for Goudchaux was only able to speak on finance, and as to Cormenin, he was always as dumb as a fish. To tell the truth, almost all the burden of the day fell upon Crémieux. He filled me, I will not say with admiration, but with surprise. Janvier has said of Crémieux that he was “an eloquent louse.” If only he could have seen him that day, jaded, with uncovered breast, dripping with perspiration and dirty with dust, wrapped in a long scarf twisted several times in every direction round his little body, but constantly hitting upon new ideas, or rather new words and phrases, now expressing in gestures what he had just expressed in words, then in words what he had just expressed in gestures: always eloquent, always ardent! I do not believe that anyone has ever seen, and I doubt whether anyone has ever imagined, a man who was uglier or more fluent.
I observed that when the National Guards were told that Paris was in a state of siege, they were pleased, and when one added that the Executive Commission was overthrown, they cheered. Never were people so delighted to be relieved of their liberty and their government. And yet this was what Lamartine’s popularity had come to in less than two months.
When we had done speaking, the men surrounded us; they asked us if we were quite sure that the Executive Commission had ceased to act; we had to show them the decree to satisfy them.
Particularly remarkable was the firm attitude of these men. We had come to encourage them, and it was rather they who encouraged us. “Hold on at the National Assembly,” they cried, “and we’ll hold on here. Courage! no transactions with the insurgents! We’ll put an end to the revolt: all will end well.” I had never seen the National Guard so resolute before, nor do I think that we could rely upon finding it so again; for its courage was prompted by necessity and despair, and proceeded from circumstances which are not likely to recur.
Paris on that day reminded me of a city of antiquity whose citizens defended the walls like heroes, because they knew that if the city were taken they themselves would be dragged into slavery. As we turned our steps back towards the Assembly, Goudchaux left us. “Now that we have done our errand,” said he, clenching his teeth, and in an accent half Gascon and half Alsatian, “I want to go and fight a bit.” He said this with such a martial air, so little in harmony with his pacific appearance, that I could not help smiling.
He did, in fact, go and fight, as I heard the next day, and so well that he might have had his little paunch pierced in two or three places, had fate so willed it. I returned from my round convinced that we should come out victorious; and what I saw on nearing the Assembly confirmed my opinion.
Thousands of men were hastening to our aid from every part of France, and entering the city by all the roads not commanded by the insurgents. Thanks to the railroads, some had already come from fifty leagues’ distance, although the fighting had only begun the night before. On the next and the subsequent days, they came from distances of a hundred and two hundred leagues. These men belonged indiscriminately to every class of society; among them were many peasants, many shopkeepers, many landlords and nobles, all mingled together in the same ranks. They were armed in an irregular and insufficient manner, but they rushed into Paris with unequalled ardour: a spectacle as strange and unprecedented in our revolutionary annals as that offered by the insurrection itself. It was evident from that moment that we should end by gaining the day, for the insurgents received no reinforcements, whereas we had all France for reserves.
On the Place Louis XV., I met, surrounded by the armed inhabitants of his canton, my kinsman Lepelletier d’Aunay, who was Vice-President of the Chamber of Deputies during the last days of the Monarchy. He wore neither uniform nor musket, but only a little silver-hilted sword which he had slung at his side over his coat by a narrow white linen bandolier. I was touched to tears on seeing this venerable white-haired man thus accoutred.
“Won’t you come and dine with us this evening?”
“No, no,” he replied; “what would these good folk who are with me, and who know that I have more to lose than they by the victory of the insurrection—what would they say if they saw me leaving them to take it easy? No, I will share their repast and sleep here at their bivouac. The only thing I would beg you is, if possible, to hurry the despatch of the provision of bread promised us, for we have had no food since morning.”
I returned to the Assembly, I believe at about three, and did not go out again. The remainder of the day was taken up by accounts of the fighting: each moment produced its event and its piece of news. The arrival of volunteers from one of the departments was announced; they were bringing in prisoners; flags captured on the barricades were brought in. Deeds of bravery were described, heroic words repeated; each moment we learnt of some person of note being wounded or killed. As to the final issue of the day, nothing had yet occurred to enable us to form an opinion.
The President only called the Assembly together at infrequent intervals and for short periods; and he was right, for assemblies are like children, and idleness always makes them say or do a number of foolish things. Each time the sitting was resumed, he himself told us all that had been learnt for certain during the adjournment. This President, as we know, was Sénard, a well-known Rouen advocate and a man of courage; but in his youth he had contracted so deep-seated a theatrical habit in the daily comedy played at the bar that he had lost the faculty of truthfully giving his true impressions of a thing, when by accident he happened to have any. It seemed always necessary that he should add some turgidity or other of his own to the feats of courage he described, and that he should express the emotion, which I believe he really felt, in hollow tones, a trembling voice, and a sort of tragic hiccough which reminded one of an actor on the stage. Never were the sublime and the ridiculous brought so close together: for the facts were sublime and the narrator ridiculous.
We did not adjourn till late at night to take a little rest. The fighting had stopped, to be resumed on the morrow. The insurrection, although everywhere held in check, had as yet been stifled nowhere.
THE DAYS OF JUNE—(continued).
The porter of the house in which we lived in the Rue de la Madeleine was a man of very bad reputation in the neighbourhood, an old soldier, not quite in his right mind, a drunkard, and a great good-for-nothing, who spent at the wine-shop all the time which he did not employ in beating his wife. This man might be said to be a Socialist by birth, or rather by temperament.
The early successes of the insurrection had brought him to a state of exaltation, and on the morning of the day of which I speak he visited all the wine-shops around, and among other mischievous remarks of which he delivered himself, he said that he would kill me when I came home in the evening, if I came in at all. He even displayed a large knife which he intended to use for the purpose. A poor woman who heard him ran in great alarm to tell Madame de Tocqueville; and she, before leaving Paris, sent me a note in which, after telling me of the facts, she begged me not to come in that night, but to go to my father’s house, which was close by, he being away. This I determined to do; but when I left the Assembly at midnight, I had not the energy to carry out my intention. I was worn out with fatigue, and I did not know whether I should find a bed prepared if I slept out. Besides, I had little faith in the performance of murders proclaimed beforehand; and also I was under the influence of the sort of listlessness that follows upon any prolonged excitement. I accordingly went and knocked at my door, only taking the precaution to load the pistols which, in those unhappy days, it was common to carry. My man opened the door, I entered, and while he was carefully pushing the bolts behind me, I asked him if all the tenants had come home. He replied drily that they had all left Paris that morning, and that we two were alone in the house. I should have preferred another kind of tête-à-tête, but it was too late to go back; I therefore looked him straight in the eyes and told him to walk in front and show a light.
He stopped at a gate that led to the court-yard, and told me that he heard a curious noise in the stables which alarmed him, begging me to go with him to see what it was. As he spoke, he turned towards the stables. All this began to seem very suspicious to me, but I thought that, as I had gone so far, it was better to go on. I accordingly followed him, carefully watching his movements, and making up my mind to kill him like a dog at the first sign of treachery. As a matter of fact, we did hear a very strange noise. It resembled the dull running of water or the distant rumble of a carriage, although it obviously came from somewhere quite near. I never learnt what it was; though it was true I did not spend much time in trying to discover. I soon returned to the house and made my companion bring me to my threshold, keeping my eyes on him the whole time. I told him to open my door, and so soon as he had done so, I took the candle from his hand and went in. It was not until I was almost out of his sight that he brought himself to take off his hat and bow to me. Had the man really intended to kill me, and seeing me on my guard, with both hands in my pockets, did he reflect that I was better armed than he, and that he would be well advised to abandon his design? I thought at the time that the latter had never been very seriously intended, and I think so still. In times of revolution, people boast almost as much about the imaginary crimes they propose to commit as in ordinary times they do of the good intentions they pretend to entertain. I have always believed that this wretch would only have become dangerous if the fortunes of the fight had seemed to turn against us; but they leant, on the contrary, to our side, although they were still undecided; and this was sufficient to assure my safety.
At dawn I heard some one in my room, and woke with a start: it was my man-servant, who had let himself in with a private key of the apartment, which he carried. The brave lad had just left the bivouac (I had supplied him at his request with a National Guard’s uniform and a good gun), and he came to know if I had come home and if his services were required. This one was certainly not a Socialist, either in theory or temperament. He was not even tainted in the slightest degree with the most general malady of the age, restlessness of mind, and even in other times than ours it would have been difficult to find a man more contented with his position and less sullen at his lot. Always very much satisfied with himself, and tolerably satisfied with others, he generally desired only that which was within his reach, and he generally attained, or thought he attained, all that he desired; thus unwittingly following the precepts which philosophers teach and never observe, and enjoying by the gift of Nature that happy equilibrium between faculty and desire which alone gives the happiness which philosophy promises us.
“Well, Eugène,” I said, when I saw him, “how are affairs going on?”
“Very well, sir, perfectly well!”
“What do you mean by very well? I can still hear the sound of cannon!”
“Yes, they are still fighting,” he replied, “but every one says it will end all right.”
With that he took off his uniform, cleaned my boots, brushed my clothes, and putting on his uniform again:
“If you don’t require me any more, sir,” said he, “and if you will permit me, I will go back to the fighting.”
He pursued this two-fold calling during four days and four nights, as simply as I am writing it down; and I experienced a sort of reposeful feeling, during these days filled with turmoil and hate, when I looked at the young man’s peaceful and contented face.
Before going to the Assembly, where I did not think there would be any important measures to take, I resolved to make my way to the places where the fighting was still going on, and where I heard the sound of cannon. It was not that I was longing “to go and fight a bit,” like Goudchaux, but I wanted to judge for myself as to the state of things; for, in my complete ignorance of war, I could not understand what made the struggle last so long. Besides, shall I confess it, a keen curiosity was piercing through all the feelings that filled my mind, and from time to time dominated them. I went along a great portion of the boulevard without seeing any traces of the battle, but there were plenty just beyond the Porte Saint-Martin; one stumbled over the débris left behind by the retreating insurrection: broken windows, doors smashed in, houses spotted by bullets or pierced by cannon-balls, trees cut down, heaped-up paving-stones, straw mixed with blood and mud. Such were these melancholy vestiges.
I thus reached the Château-d’Eau, around which were massed a number of troops of different sorts. At the foot of the fountain was a piece of cannon which was being discharged down the Rue Samson. I thought at first that the insurgents were replying with cannon on their side, but I ended by seeing that I was deceived by an echo which repeated with a terrible crash the sound of our own gun. I have never heard anything like it; one might have thought one’s self in the midst of a great battle. As a matter of fact, the insurgents were only replying with an infrequent but deadly musketry fire.
It was a strange combat. The Rue Samson, as we know, is not a very long one; at the end runs the Canal Saint-Martin, and behind the canal is a large house facing the street. The street was absolutely deserted; there was no barricade in sight, and the gun seemed to be firing at a target; only from time to time a whiff of smoke issued from a few windows, and proclaimed the presence of an invisible enemy. Our sharp-shooters, posted along the walls, aimed at the windows from which they saw the shots fired. Lamoricière, mounted on a tall horse in full view of the enemy, gave his commands amid the whirl of bullets. I thought he was more excited and talkative than I had imagined a general ought to be in such a juncture; he talked, shouted in a hoarse voice, gesticulated in a sort of rage. It was easy to see by the clearness of his thoughts and expressions that amid this apparent disorder he lost none of his presence of mind; but his manner of commanding might have caused others to lose theirs, and I confess I should have admired his courage more if he had kept more quiet.
This conflict, in which one saw nobody before him, this firing, which seemed to be aimed only at the walls, surprised me strangely. I should never have pictured war to myself under this aspect. As the boulevard seemed clear beyond the Château-d’Eau, I was unable to understand why our columns did not pass further, nor why, if we wanted first to seize the large house facing the street, we did not capture it at a run, instead of remaining so long exposed to the deadly fire issuing from it. Yet nothing was more easily explained: the boulevard, which I thought clear from the Château-d’Eau onwards, was not so; beyond the bend which it makes at this place, it was bristling with barricades, all the way to the Bastille. Before attacking the barricades, we wanted to become masters of the streets we left behind us, and especially to capture the house facing the street, which, commanding the boulevard as it did, would have impeded our communications. Finally, we did not take the house by assault, because we were separated from it by the canal, which I could not see from the boulevard. We confined ourselves, therefore, to efforts to destroy it by cannon-shots, or at least to render it untenable. This took a long time to accomplish, and after being astonished in the morning that the fighting had not finished, I now asked myself how at this rate it could ever finish. For what I was witnessing at the Château-d’Eau was at the same time being repeated in other forms in a hundred different parts of Paris.
As the insurgents had no artillery, the conflict did not possess the horrible aspect which it must have when the battle-field is ploughed by cannon balls. The men who were struck down before me seemed transfixed by an invisible shaft: they staggered and fell without one’s seeing at first anything but a little hole made in their clothes. In the cases of this kind which I witnessed, I was struck less by the sight of physical pain than by the picture of moral anguish. It was indeed a strange and frightful thing to see the sudden change of features, the quick extinction of the light in the eyes in the terror of death.
After a certain period, I saw Lamoricière’s horse sink to the ground, shot by a bullet; it was the third horse the General had had killed under him since the day before yesterday. He sprang lightly to the ground, and continued bellowing his raging instructions.
I noticed that on our side the least eager were the soldiers of the Line. They were weakened and, as it were, dulled by the remembrance of February, and did not yet seem quite certain that they would not be told the next day that they had done wrong. The liveliest were undoubtedly the Gardes Mobiles of whom we had felt so uncertain; and, in spite of the event, I maintain that we were right, at the time; for it wanted but little for them to decide against us instead of taking our side. Until the end, they plainly showed that it was the fighting they loved rather than the cause for which they fought.
All these troops were raw and very subject to panic: I myself was a judge and almost a victim of this. At a street corner close to the Château-d’Eau was a large house in process of building. Some insurgents, who doubtless entered from behind across the court-yards, had taken up their position there, unknown to us; suddenly they appeared on the roof, and fired a great volley at the troops who filled the boulevard, and who did not expect to find the enemy posted so close at hand. The sound of their muskets reverberating with a great crash against the opposite houses gave reason to dread that a surprise of the same kind was taking place on that side. Immediately the most incredible confusion prevailed in our column: artillery, cavalry, and infantry were mingled in a moment, the soldiers fired in every direction, without knowing what they were doing, and tumultuously fell back sixty paces. This retreat was so disorderly and so impetuous that I was thrown against the wall of the houses facing the Rue du Faubourg-du-Temple, knocked down by the cavalry, and so hard pressed that I left my hat on the field, and very nearly left my body there. It was certainly the most serious danger I ran during the days of June. This made me think that it is not all heroism in the game of war. I have no doubt but that accidents of this kind often happen to the very best troops; no one boasts about them, and they are not mentioned in the despatches.
It was now that Lamoricière became sublime. He had till then kept his sword in the scabbard: he now drew it, and ran up to his soldiers, his features distorted with the most magnificent rage; he stopped them with his voice, seized them with his hands, even struck them with the pummel of his sword, turned them, brought them back, and, placing himself at their head, forced them to pass at the trot through the fire in the Rue du Faubourg-du-Temple in order to take the house from which the firing had come. This was done in a moment, and without striking a blow: the enemy had disappeared.
The combat resumed its dull aspect and lasted some time longer, until the enemy’s fire was at length extinguished, and the street occupied. Before commencing the next operation, there was a moment’s pause: Lamoricière went to his head-quarters, a wine-shop on the boulevard near the Porte Saint-Martin, and I was at last able to consult him on the state of affairs.
“How long do you think,” I asked, “that all this will last?”
“Why, how can I tell?” he replied. “That depends on the enemy, not on us.”
He then showed me on the map all the streets we had already captured and were occupying, and all those we had still to take, adding, “If the insurgents choose to defend themselves on the ground they still hold as they have done on that which we have won from them, we may still have a week’s fighting before us, and our loss will be enormous, for we lose more than they do: the first side to lose its moral courage will be the first to be beaten.”
I next reproached him with exposing himself so rashly, and, as I thought, so uselessly.
“What will you have me do?” said he. “Tell Cavaignac to send generals able and willing to second me, and I will keep more in the background; but you always have to expose yourself when you have only yourself to rely on.”
M. Thiers then came up, threw himself on Lamoricière’s neck, and told him he was a hero. I could not help smiling at this effusion, for there was no love lost between them: but a great danger is like wine, it makes men affectionate.
I left Lamoricière in M. Thiers’ arms, and returned to the Assembly: it was growing late, and besides, I know no greater fool than the man who gets his head broken in battle out of curiosity.
The rest of the day was spent as the day before: the same anxiety in the Assembly, the same feverish inaction, the same firmness. Volunteers continued to enter Paris; every moment we were told of some tragic event or illustrious death. These pieces of news saddened, but animated and fortified, the Assembly. Any member who ventured to propose to enter into negociations with the insurgents was met with yells of rage.
In the evening I decided to go myself to the Hôtel de Ville, in order there to obtain more certain news of the results of the day. The insurrection, after alarming me by its extreme violence, now alarmed me by its long duration. For who could foresee the effect which the sight of so long and uncertain a conflict might produce in some parts of France, and especially in the great manufacturing towns, such as Lyons? As I went along the Quai de la Ferraille, I met some National Guards from my neighbourhood, carrying on litters several of their comrades and two of their officers wounded. I observed, in talking with them, with what terrible rapidity, even in so civilized a century as our own, the most peaceful minds enter, as it were, into the spirit of civil war, and how quick they are, in these unhappy times, to acquire a taste for violence and a contempt for human life. The men with whom I was talking were peaceful, sober artisans, whose gentle and somewhat sluggish natures were still further removed from cruelty than from heroism. Yet they dreamt of nothing but massacre and destruction. They complained that they were not allowed to use bombs, or to sap and mine the streets held by the insurgents, and they were determined to show no more quarter; already that morning I had almost seen a poor devil shot before my eyes on the boulevards, who had been arrested without arms in his hands, but whose mouth and hands were blackened by a substance which they supposed to be, and which no doubt was, powder. I did all I could to calm these rabid sheep. I promised them that we should take terrible measures the next day. Lamoricière, in fact, had told me that morning that he had sent for shells to hurl behind the barricades; and I knew that a regiment of sappers was expected from Douai, to pierce the walls and blow up the besieged houses with petards. I added that they must not shoot any of their prisoners, but that they should kill then and there anyone who made as though to defend himself. I left my men a little more contented, and, continuing my road, I could not help examining myself and feeling surprised at the nature of the arguments I had used, and the promptness with which, in two days, I had become familiarized with those ideas of inexorable destruction which were naturally so foreign to my character.
As I passed in front of the little streets at the entrance to which, two days before, I had seen such neat and solid barricades being built, I noticed that the cannon had considerably upset those fine works, although some traces remained.
I was received by Marrast, the Mayor of Paris. He told me that the Hôtel de Ville was clear for the present, but that the insurgents might try in the night to recapture the streets from which we had driven them. I found him less tranquil than his bulletins. He took me to a room in which they had laid Bedeau, who was dangerously wounded on the first day. This post at the Hôtel de Ville was a very fatal one for the generals who commanded there. Bedeau almost lost his life. Duvivier and Négrier, who succeeded him, were killed. Bedeau believed he was but slightly hurt, and thought only of the situation of affairs: nevertheless, his activity of mind struck me as ill-omened, and alarmed me.
The night was well advanced when I left the Hôtel de Ville to go to the Assembly. I was offered an escort, which I refused, not thinking I should require it; but I regretted it more than once on the road. In order to prevent the insurgent districts from receiving reinforcements, provisions, or communications from the other parts of the town, in which there were so many men prepared to embrace the same cause, it had very properly been resolved absolutely to prohibit circulation in any of the streets. Everyone was stopped who left his house without a pass or an escort. I was constantly stopped on my way and made to show my medal. I was aimed at more than ten times by those inexperienced sentries, who spoke every imaginable brogue; for Paris was filled with provincials, who had come from every part of the country, many of them for the first time.
When I arrived, the sitting was over, but the Palace was still in a great state of excitement. A rumour had got abroad that the workmen of the Gros-Caillou were about to take advantage of the darkness to seize upon the Palace itself. Thus the Assembly, which, after three days’ fighting, had carried the conflict into the heart of the districts occupied by its enemies, was trembling for its own quarters. The rumour was void of foundation; but nothing could better show the character of this war, in which the enemy might always be one’s own neighbour, and in which one was never certain of not having his house sacked while gaining a victory at a distance. In order to secure the Palace against all surprise, barricades were hurriedly erected at the entrance to all the streets leading up to it. When I saw that there was only a question of a false rumour, I went home to bed.
I shall say no more of the June combats. The recollections of the two last days merge into and are lost in those of the first. As is known, the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, the last citadel of the civil war, did not lay down its arms until the Monday—that is to say, on the fourth day after the commencement of the conflict; and it was not until the morning of that day that the volunteers from la Manche were able to reach Paris. They had hurried as fast as possible, but they had come more than eighty leagues across a country in which there were no railways. They were fifteen hundred in number. I was touched at recognizing among them many landlords, lawyers, doctors and farmers who were my friends and neighbours. Almost all the old nobility of the country had taken up arms on this occasion and formed part of the column. It was the same over almost the whole of France. From the petty squire squatting in his den in the country to the useless, elegant sons of the great houses—all had at that moment remembered that they had once formed part of a warlike and governing class, and on every side they gave the example of vigour and resolution: so great is the vitality of those old bodies of aristocracy. They retain traces of themselves even when they appear to be reduced to dust, and spring up time after time from the shades of death before sinking back for ever.
It was in the midst of the days of June that the death occurred of a man who perhaps of all men in our day best preserved the spirit of the old races: M. de Chateaubriand, with whom I was connected by so many family ties and childish recollections. He had long since fallen into a sort of speechless stupor, which made one sometimes believe that his intelligence was extinguished. Nevertheless, while in this condition, he heard a rumour of the Revolution of February, and desired to be told what was happening. They informed him that Louis-Philippe’s government had been overthrown. He said, “Well done!” and nothing more. Four months later, the din of the days of June reached his ears, and again he asked what that noise was. They answered that people were fighting in Paris, and that it was the sound of cannon. Thereupon he made vain efforts to rise, saying, “I want to go to it,” and was then silent, this time for ever; for he died the next day.
Such were the days of June, necessary and disastrous days. They did not extinguish revolutionary ardour in France, but they put a stop, at least for a time, to what may be called the work appertaining to the Revolution of February. They delivered the nation from the tyranny of the Paris workmen and restored it to possession of itself.
Socialistic theories continued to penetrate into the minds of the people in the shape of envious and greedy desires, and to sow the seed of future revolutions; but the socialist party itself was beaten and powerless. The Montagnards, who did not belong to it, felt that they were irrevocably affected by the blow that had struck it. The moderate Republicans themselves did not fail to be alarmed lest this victory had led them to a slope which might precipitate them from the Republic, and they made an immediate effort to stop their descent, but in vain. Personally I detested the Mountain, and was indifferent to the Republic; but I adored Liberty, and I conceived great apprehensions for it immediately after these days. I at once looked upon the June fighting as a necessary crisis, after which, however, the temper of the nation would undergo a certain change. The love of independence was to be followed by a dread of, and perhaps a distaste for, free institutions; after such an abuse of liberty a return of this sort was inevitable. This retrograde movement began, in fact, on the 27th of June. At first very slow and invisible, as it were, to the naked eye, it grew swifter, impetuous, irresistible. Where will it stop? I do not know. I believe we shall have great difficulty in not rolling far beyond the point we had reached before February, and I foresee that all of us, Socialists, Montagnards and Liberal Republicans, will fall into common discredit until the private recollections of the Revolution of 1848 are removed and effaced, and the general spirit of the times shall resume its empire.
THE COMMITTEE FOR THE CONSTITUTION.
I now change my subject, and am glad to leave the scenes of the civil war and to return to the recollections of my parliamentary life. I wish to speak of what happened in the Committee for the Constitution, of which I was a member. This will oblige us to retrace our steps a little, for the appointment and work of this committee date back to before the days of June; but I did not mention it earlier, because I did not wish to interrupt the course of events which was leading us swiftly and directly to those days. The nomination of the Committee for the Constitution was commenced on the 17th of May; it was a long performance, because it had been decided that the members of the committee should be chosen by the whole Assembly and by an absolute majority of votes. I was elected at the first time of voting2 together with Cormenin, Marrast, Lamennais, Vivien, and Dufaure. I do not know how often the voting had to be repeated in order to complete the list, which was to consist of eighteen members.
Although the committee had been nominated before the victory of June, almost all its members belonged to the different moderate sections of the Assembly. The Mountain had only two representatives on it: Lamennais and Considérant; and even these were little worse than chimerical visionaries, especially Considérant, who would have deserved to be sent to a lunatic asylum had he been sincere—but I fear he deserved more than that.
Taking the Committee as a whole, it was easy to see that no very remarkable result was to be expected from it. Some of its members had spent their lives in conducting or controlling the administration during the last government. They had never seen, studied, or understood anything except the Monarchy; and even then they had, for the most part, applied rather than studied its principles. They had raised themselves but little above the practice of business. Now that they were called upon to realize the theories which they had always slighted or opposed, and which had defeated without convincing them, they found it difficult to apply any but monarchical ideas to their work; or, if they adopted republican ideas, they did so now timidly, now rashly, always a little at hap-hazard, like novices.
As for the Republicans proper on the Committee, they had few ideas of any sort, except those which they had gathered in reading or writing for the newspapers; for there were many journalists among them. Marrast had edited the National for ten years; Dornès was at that time its editor-in-chief; Vaulabelle, a man of serious but coarse and even cynical cast of mind, habitually wrote for its columns. He was the man who, a month later, was himself vastly astonished at becoming Minister of Public Worship and Instruction.
All this bore very little resemblance to the men, so certain of their objects and so well acquainted with the measures necessary to attain them, who sixty years before, under Washington’s presidency, so successfully drew up the American Constitution.
For that matter, even if the Committee had been capable of doing its work well, the want of time and the preoccupation of outside events would have prevented it.
There is no nation which attaches itself less to those who govern it than the French Nation, nor which is less able to dispense with government. So soon as it finds itself obliged to walk alone, it undergoes a sort of vertigo, which makes it dread an abyss at every step. At the time I speak of, it had a sort of frenzied desire for the work of framing the Constitution to be completed, and for the powers in command to be, if not solidly, at least permanently and regularly established. The Assembly shared this eagerness, and never ceased urging us on, although we required but little urging. The recollection of the 15th of May, the apprehensions entertained of the days of June and the sight of the divided, enervated and incapable government at the head of affairs were sufficient inducement to us to hasten our labours. But what especially deprived the Committee of its freedom of thought was, it must be confessed, the fear of outside matters and the excitement of the moment. It would be difficult to imagine the effect produced by this forcing of revolutionary ideas upon minds so little disposed to adopt them, and how the latter were being incessantly, and even almost unconsciously, impelled much further than they wished to go, when they were not pushed altogether out of the direction they desired to take. Certainly, if the Committee had met on the 27th of June instead of the 16th of May, its work would have been very different.
The discussion opened on the 22nd of May. The first question was to decide on which side we should tackle this immense work. Lamennais proposed to commence by regulating the state of the communes. He had proceeded in this way himself in a proposal for a Constitution which he had just published, so as to make certain of the first fruits of his discoveries. Then he passed from the question of sequence to that of the main point: he began to talk of administrative centralization, for his thoughts were incapable of sub-dividing themselves; his mind was always wholly occupied by a single system, and all the ideas contained in it adhered so closely together that, so soon as one was uttered, the others seemed necessarily to follow. He therefore explained that a Republic whose citizens are not clever and experienced enough to govern themselves was a monster not fit to live.
Thereupon the Committee took fire: Barrot, who, amid the clouds of his mind, always pretty clearly perceived the necessity for local liberty, eagerly supported Lamennais. I did the same; Marrast and Vivien opposed us. Vivien was quite consistent in defending centralization, for the movement of administrative affairs was his profession, and moreover he was quite naturally drawn towards it. He had all the qualities of a clever legist and an excellent commentator, and none of those necessary to a legislator or statesman. The danger in which he beheld the institutions so dear to him inflamed him; he grew so excited that he began to hold that the Republic, far from restraining centralization, ought even to increase it. One would have said that this was the side on which the Revolution of February pleased him.
Marrast belonged to the ordinary type of French revolutionaries, who have always understood the liberty of the people to mean despotism exercised in the name of the people. This sudden harmony between Vivien and Marrast did not, therefore, surprise me. I was used to the phenomenon, and I had long remarked that the only way to bring a Conservative and a Radical together was to attack the power of the central government, not in application, but in principle. One was then sure of throwing them into each other’s arms.
When, therefore, people assert that nothing is safe from revolutions, I tell them they are wrong, and that centralization is one of those things. In France there is only one thing we can’t set up: that is, a free government; and only one institution we can’t destroy: that is, centralization. How could it ever perish? The enemies of government love it, and those who govern cherish it. The latter perceive, it is true, from time to time, that it exposes them to sudden and irremediable disasters; but this does not disgust them with it. The pleasure it procures them of interfering with every one and holding everything in their hands atones to them for its dangers. They prefer this agreeable life to a more certain and longer existence, and say, “Courte et bonne,” likes the roués of the Regency: “A short life and a merry one.”
The question could not be decided that day; but it was settled in advance by the determination arrived at that we should not first occupy ourselves with the communal system.
Next day, Lamennais resigned. Under the circumstances, an occurrence of this sort was annoying. It was bound to increase and rooten the prejudices already existing against us. We took very pressing and even somewhat humble steps to induce Lamennais to reconsider his resolve. As I had shared his opinion, I was deputed to go and see him and press him to return. I did so, but in vain. He had only been beaten over a formal question, but he had concluded from this that he would not be the master. That was enough to decide him to be nothing at all. He was inflexible, in spite of all I could say in the interest of the very ideas which we held in common.
One should especially consider an unfrocked priest if one wishes to acquire a correct idea of the indestructible and, so to speak, infinite power which the clerical habit and method of thought wield over those who have once contracted them. It was useless for Lamennais to sport white stockings, a yellow waistcoat, a striped necktie, and a green coat: he remained a priest in character, and even in appearance. He walked with short, hurried and discreet steps, never turning his head or looking at anybody, and glided through the crowd with an awkward, modest air, as though he were leaving the sacristy. Add to this a pride great enough to walk over the heads of kings and bid defiance to God.
When it was found that Lamennais’ obstinacy was not to be overcome, we proceeded with other business; and so that no more time might be lost in premature discussions, a sub-committee was appointed to draw up rules for the regulation of our labours, and to propose them to the Committee. Unfortunately, this sub-committee was so constituted that Cormenin, our chairman, was its master and, in reality, substituted himself for it. The permanent power of initiative which he thus possessed, coupled with the conduct of the debates which belonged to him as chairman, had the most baneful influence upon our deliberations, and I am not sure if the faults in our work should not be mainly attributed to him.
Like Lamennais, Cormenin had drawn up and published a Constitution after his own idea, and again, like the former, he expected us to adopt it. But he did not quite know how to put it to us. As a rule, extreme vanity makes the timidest very bold in speaking. Cormenin’s did not permit him to open his mouth so soon as he had three listeners. He would have liked to do as one of my neighbours in Normandy did, a great lover of polemics, to whom Providence had refused the capacity of disputing vivâ voce. Whenever I opposed any of his opinions, he would hurry home and write to me all that he ought to have told me. Cormenin accordingly despaired of convincing us, but hoped to surprise us. He flattered himself that he would make us accept his system gradually and, so to speak, unknown to ourselves, by presenting a morsel to us every day. He managed so cleverly that a general discussion could never be held upon the Constitution as a whole, and that even in each case it was almost impossible to trace back and find the primitive idea. He brought us every day five or six clauses ready drawn up, and patiently, little by little, drew back to this little plot of ground all those who wished to escape from it. We resisted sometimes; but in the end, from sheer weariness, we yielded to this gentle, continuous restraint. The influence of a chairman upon the work of a committee is immense; any one who has closely observed these little assemblies will understand what I mean. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that if several of us had desired to withdraw ourselves from this tyranny, we should have ended by coming to an understanding and succeeding. But we had no time and no inclination for long discussions. The vastness and complexity of the subject alarmed and wearied the minds of the Committee beforehand: the majority had not even attempted to study it, or had only collected some very confused ideas; and those who had formed clearer ones were ill at ease at having to expound them. They were afraid, besides, lest they should enter into violent, interminable disputes if they endeavoured to get to the bottom of things; and they preferred to appear to be in harmony by keeping to the surface. In this way we ambled along to the end, adopting great principles explicitly for reasons of petty detail, and little by little building up the whole machinery of government without properly taking into account the relative strength of the various wheels and the manner in which they would work together.
In the moments of repose which interrupted this fine work, Marrast, who was a Republican of the Barras type, and who had always preferred the pleasures of luxury, the table and women to democracy in rags, told us little stories of gallantry, while Vaulabelle made broad jests. I hope, for the honour of the Committee, that no one will ever publish the minutes (very badly done, for that matter) which the secretary drew up of our sittings. The sterility of the discussions amid the exuberant fecundity of the subject-matter would assuredly provoke surprise. As for myself, I declare that I never witnessed a more wretched display in any committee on which I ever sat.
Nevertheless, there was one serious discussion. It referred to the system of a single Chamber. As a matter of fact, the two parties into which the Committee was silently divided only came to an issue on this one occasion. It was even less a question of the two Chambers than of the general character to be given to the new government: Were we to persevere in the learned and somewhat complicated system of counterpoises, and place powers held in check, and consequently prudent and moderate, at the head of the Republic? Or were we to adopt the contrary course and accept the simpler theory, according to which affairs are placed in the hands of a single power, homogeneous in all its parts, uncontrolled, and consequently impetuous in its measures, and irresistible? This was the subject-matter of the debate. This general question might have cropped up as the result of a number of other clauses; but it was better contained than elsewhere in the special question of the two Chambers.
The struggle was a long one and lasted for two sittings. The result was not for a moment in doubt: for public opinion had pronounced strongly in favour of a single Chamber, not only in Paris but in nearly every department. Barrot was the first to speak in favour of the two Chambers; he took up my thesis and developed it with great talent, but intemperately; for during the Revolution of February, his mind had lost its equilibrium and had never since been able to recover its self-possession. I supported Barrot and returned time after time to the charge. I was a little surprised to hear Dufaure pronouncing against us and doing so with a certain eagerness. Lawyers are rarely able to escape from one of two habits: they accustom themselves either to plead what they do not believe or to persuade themselves very easily of what they wish to plead. Dufaure came under the latter category. The drift of public opinion, of his own passions or interest, would never have led him to embrace a cause which he thought a bad one; but it prompted him with a desire to think it a good one, and that was often sufficient. His naturally vacillating, ingenious and subtle mind turned gradually towards it; and he sometimes ended by adopting it, not only with conviction but with transport. How often have I not been amazed to see him vehemently defending theories which I had seen him adopt with infinite hesitation!
His principal reason for voting this time in favour of a single Chamber in the Legislative Body (and it was the best, I think, that could be found) was that, with us, the Executive Power wielded by one man elected by the people would most certainly become preponderant if there were placed beside him only a legislative body weakened by being divided into two branches. I remember that I replied that that might be the case, but that one thing was quite certain, and that was, that two great powers naturally jealous of one another, and placed in an eternal tête-à-tête (that was the expression I used), without ever having recourse to the arbitrament of a third power, would at once be on bad terms or at war with one another, and would constantly remain so until one had destroyed the other. I added that, if it was true that a President elected by the people, and possessing the immense prerogatives which in France belong to the chief of the public administration, was sometimes able to curb a divided legislative body, a President who should feel himself to possess this origin and these rights would always refuse to become a simple agent and to submit to the capricious and tyrannical will of a single assembly.
We were both in the right. The problem, thus propounded, was insolvable; but the nation propounded it thus. To allow the President the same power that the King had enjoyed, and to have him elected by the people, would make the Republic impossible. As I said later, one must either infinitely narrow the sphere of his power, or else have him elected by the Assembly; but the nation would hear of neither one nor the other.
Dupin completed our defeat: he defended the single Chamber with surprising vigour. One would have thought that he had never held another opinion. I expected as much. I knew him to possess a heart that was habitually self-interested and cowardly, though subject at times to sudden leaps of courage and honesty. I had seen him for ten years prowling round every party without joining any, and attacking all the vanquished: half ape and half jackal, constantly biting, grimacing, gambolling, and always ready to fall upon the wretch who slipped. He showed himself in his true colours on the Committee of the Constitution, or rather he surpassed himself. I perceived in him none of those sudden leaps of which I have just spoken: he was uniformly commonplace from beginning to end. He usually remained silent while the majority were making up their minds; but as soon as he saw them pronounce in favour of democratic opinions, he rushed to place himself at their head, and often went far beyond them. Once, he perceived, when he had gone half-way, that the majority were not going in the direction he had thought; whereupon he immediately stopped short with a prompt and nimble effort of the intelligence, turned round, and hurried back at the same run towards the opinion from which he had been departing.
Almost all the old members of Parliament pronounced in this way against the dual Chamber. Most of them sought for more or less plausible pretexts for their votes. Some pretended that a Council of State would provide the counterpoise of which they acknowledged the necessity; others purposed to subject the single assembly to forms whose slowness would safeguard it against its own impulses and against surprise; but in the end the true reason was always given. On the committee was a minister of the Gospel, M. Coquerel, who, seeing that his colleagues of the Catholic clergy were entering the Assembly, wanted to appear there too, and he was wrong: from the much-admired preacher that he was, he suddenly transformed himself into a very ridiculous political orator. He could hardly open his mouth without uttering some pompous absurdity. On this occasion he was so naïve as to inform us that he continued to favour the dual Chamber, but that he would vote for the single Chamber because public opinion was pushing him on, and he did not wish, to use his own words, to fight against the current. This candour greatly annoyed those who were acting as he did, and mightily delighted Barrot and myself; but this was the only satisfaction we received, for, when it came to voting, there were only three on our side.
This signal defeat disinclined me a little to continue the struggle, and threw Barrot quite out of humour. He no longer appeared except at rare intervals, and in order to utter signs of impatience or disdain rather than opinions.
We passed on to the Executive Power. In spite of all that I have said of the circumstances of the time and the disposition of the Committee, it will still be believed with difficulty that so vast, so perplexing, so novel a subject did not furnish the material for a single general debate, nor for any very profound discussion.
All were unanimous in the opinion that the Executive Power should be entrusted to one man alone. But what prerogatives and what agents should he be given, what responsibilities laid upon him? Clearly, none of these questions could be treated in an arbitrary fashion; each of them was necessarily in connection with all the others, and could, above all, be only decided by taking into special account the habits and customs of the country. These were old problems, no doubt; but they were made young again by the novelty of the circumstances.
Cormenin, according to his custom, opened the discussion by proposing a little clause all ready drawn up, which provided that the head of the Executive Power, or the President, as he was thenceforward called, should be elected directly by the people by a relative majority, the minimum of votes necessary to carry his election being fixed at two millions. I believe Marrast was the only one to oppose it; he proposed that the head of the Executive Power should be elected by the Assembly: he was at that time intoxicated with his own fortune, and flattered himself, strange though this may seem to-day, that the choice of the Assembly would fall upon himself. Nevertheless, the clause proposed by Cormenin was adopted without any difficulty, so far as I can remember; and yet it must be confessed that the expediency of having the President elected by the people was not a self-evident truth, and that the disposition to have him elected directly was as new as it was dangerous. In a country with no monarchical tradition, in which the Executive Power has always been feeble and continues to be very limited, nothing is wiser than to charge the nation with the choice of its representative. A President who had not the strength which he could draw from that origin would then become the plaything of the Assemblies; but with us the conditions of the problem were very different. We were emerging from the Monarchy, and the habits of the Republicans themselves were still monarchical. Moreover, our system of centralization made our position an unique one: according to its principles, the whole administration of the country, in matters of the greatest and of the smallest moment, belonged to the President; the thousands of officials who held the whole country in their hands were dependent upon him alone; this was so according to the laws, and even the ideas, which the 24th of February had allowed to continue in force; for we had retained the spirit of the Monarchy, while losing the taste for it. Under these conditions, what could a President elected by the people be other than a pretender to the Crown? The office could only suit those who hoped to make use of it in order to assist in transforming the Presidential into Royal powers; it seemed clear to me then, and it seems evident to me now, that if it was desired that the President should be elected by the people without danger to the Republic, it was necessary to limit prodigiously the circle of his prerogatives; and even then, I am not sure that this would have sufficed, for his sphere, although thus confined in point of law, would, in habit and remembrance, have preserved its former extent. If, on the other hand, the President was allowed to retain his power, he should not be elected by the people. These truths were not put forward; I doubt whether they were even perceived in the heart of the Committee. However, Cormenin’s clause, although adopted at first, was later made the object of a very lively attack; but it was attacked for reasons different to those I have just given. It was on the day after the 4th of June. Prince Louis Napoleon, of whom no one had thought a few days before, had just been elected to the Assembly by Paris and three departments. They began to fear that he would be placed at the head of the Republic if the choice were left to the people. The various pretenders and their friends grew excited, the question was raised afresh in the Committee, and the majority persisted in its original vote.
I remember that, during all the time that the Committee was occupied in this way, my mind was labouring to divine to which side the balance of power would most generally lean in a Republic of the kind which I saw they were going to make. Sometimes I thought that it would be on the side of the Assembly, and then again on that of the elected President; and this uncertainty made me very uneasy. The fact is, that it was impossible to tell beforehand. The victory of one or other of these two great rivals must necessarily depend upon circumstances and the humours of the moment. There were only two things certain: the war which they would wage together, and the eventual ruin of the Republic.
Of all the ideas which I have expounded, not one was sifted by the Committee; I might even say that not one was discussed. Barrot one day touched upon them in passing, but did not linger over them. His mind (which was sleepy rather than feeble, and which was even able to see far ahead when it took the trouble to look) caught a glimpse of them, as it were, between sleeping and waking, and thought no more of them.
I myself only pointed them out with a certain hesitation and reserve. My rebuff in the matter of the dual Chamber left me little heart for the fight. Moreover, I confess, I was more anxious to reach a quick decision, and place a powerful leader at the head of the Republic, than to organize a perfect republican Constitution. We were then under the divided and uncertain government of the Executive Committee, Socialism was at our gates, and we were approaching the days of June, as we must not forget. Later, after these days, I vigorously supported in the Assembly the system of electing the President by the people, and in a certain measure contributed to its acceptance. The principal reason which I gave was that, after announcing to the nation that we would grant it that right, which it had always ardently desired, it was no longer possible to withhold it. This was true. Nevertheless, I regret having spoken on this occasion.
To return to the Committee: unable and even unwilling to oppose the adoption of the principle, I endeavoured at least to make its application less dangerous. I first proposed to limit in various directions the sphere of the Executive Power; but I soon saw that it was useless to attempt anything serious on that side. I then fell back upon the method of election itself, and raised a discussion on that portion of Cormenin’s clause which treated of it.
The clause, as I said above, laid down that the President should be elected directly, by a relative majority, the minimum of this majority being fixed at two million votes. This method had several very serious drawbacks.
Since the President was to be elected directly by the citizens, the enthusiasm and infatuation of the people was very much to be feared; and moreover, the prestige and moral power which the newly elected would possess would be much greater. Since a relative majority was to be sufficient to make the election valid, it might be possible that the President should only represent the wishes of a minority of the nation. I asked that the President might not be elected directly by the citizens, but that this should be entrusted to delegates whom the people would elect. In the second place, I proposed to substitute an actual for a relative majority; if an absolute majority was not obtained at the first vote, it would fall to the Assembly to make a choice. These ideas were, I think, sound, but they were not new; I had borrowed them from the American Constitution. I doubt whether anyone would have suspected this, had I not said so; so little was the Committee prepared to play its great part.
The first part of my amendment was rejected. I expected this: our great men were of opinion that this system was not sufficiently simple, and they considered it tainted with a touch of aristocracy. The second was accepted, and is part of the actual Constitution.
Beaumont proposed that the President should not be re-eligible; I supported him vigorously, and the proposal was carried. On this occasion we both fell into a great mistake which will, I fear, lead to very sad results. We had always been greatly struck with the dangers threatening liberty and public morality at the hands of a re-eligible president, who in order to secure his re-election would infallibly employ beforehand the immense resources of constraint and corruption which our laws and customs allow to the head of the Executive Power. Our minds were not supple or prompt enough to turn in time or to see that, so soon as it was decided that the citizens themselves should directly choose the President, the evil was irreparable, and that it would be only increasing it rashly to undertake to hinder the people in their choice. This vote, and the great influence I brought to bear upon it, is my most unpleasant memory of that period.
Each moment we came up against centralization, and instead of removing the obstacle, we stumbled over it. It was of the essence of the Republic that the head of the Executive Power should be responsible; but responsible for what, and to what extent? Could he be made responsible for the thousand details of administration with which our administrative legislation is overcharged, and over which it would be impossible, and moreover dangerous, for him to watch in person? That would have been unjust and ridiculous; and if he was not to be responsible for the administration proper, who would be? It was decided that the responsibility of the President should be shared by the ministers, and that their counter-signature should be necessary, as in the days of the Monarchy. Thus the President was responsible, and yet he was not entirely free in his own actions, and he was not able to protect his agents in agents.
We passed to the constitution of the Council of State. Cormenin and Vivien took charge of this; it may be said that they set to work like people who are building up a house for themselves. They did their utmost to make the Council of State a third power, but without success. It became something more than an administrative council, but infinitely less than a legislative assembly.
The only part of our work which was at all well thought out, and arranged, as I think, with wisdom, was that which related to justice. Here the committee felt at home, most of its members being, or having been, barristers. Thanks to these, we were able to save the principle of the irremovability of the judges; as in 1830, it held good against the current which swept away all the rest. Those who had been Republicans from the commencement attacked it nevertheless, and very stupidly, in my opinion; for this principle is much more in favour of the independence of one’s fellow-citizens than of the power of those who govern. The Court of Appeal and, especially, the tribunal charged with judging political crimes were constituted at once just as they are to-day (1851). Beaumont drew up most of the articles which refer to these two great courts. What we did in these matters is far in advance of all that had been attempted in the same direction during sixty years. It is probably the only part of the Constitution of 1848 which will survive.
It was decided at the instance of Vivien that the Constitution could only be revised by a Constituent Assembly, which was right; but they added that this revision could only take place if the National Assembly demanded it by an express vote, given three times consecutively by a majority of four-fifths, which rendered any regular revision almost impossible. I took no part in this vote. I had long been of opinion that, instead of aiming to make our governments eternal, we should tend to make it possible to change them in an easy and regular manner. Taken all round, I thought this less dangerous than the opposite course; and I thought it best to treat the French people like those madmen whom one should be careful not to bind lest they become infuriated by the restraint.
I noticed casually a number of curious opinions that were emitted. Martin (of Strasburg), who, not content with being a Republican of yesterday, one day declared so absurdly in the tribune that he was a Republican by birth, nevertheless proposed to give the President the right to dissolve the Assembly, and failed to see that a right of this kind would easily make him master of the Republic; Marrast wanted a section to be added to the Council of State charged to elaborate “new ideas,” to be called a section of progress; Barrot proposed to leave to a jury the decision of all civil suits, as though a judiciary revolution of this sort could possibly be improvised. And Dufaure proposed to prohibit substitution in the conscription, and to compel everyone personally to perform his military service, a measure which would have destroyed all liberal education unless the time of service had been greatly reduced, or have disorganized the army if this reduction had been effected.
In this way, pressed by time and ill prepared to treat such important subjects, we approached the time appointed for the end of our labours. What was said was: Let us adopt, in the meantime, the articles proposed to us; we can afterwards retrace our steps; we can judge from this sketch how to fix the definitive features and to adjust the portions among themselves. But we did not retrace our steps, and the sketch remained the picture.
We appointed Marrast our secretary. The way in which he acquitted himself of this important office soon exposed the mixture of idleness, giddiness and impudence which formed the basis of his character. He was first several days without doing anything, though the Assembly was constantly asking to know the result of our deliberations, and all France was anxiously awaiting to learn it. Then he hurriedly wrote his report in one night immediately preceding the day on which he was to communicate it to the Assembly. In the morning, he spoke of it to one or two of his colleagues whom he met by chance, and then boldly appeared in the tribune and read, in the name of the Committee, a report of which hardly one of its members had heard a single word. This reading took place on the 19th of June. The draft of the Constitution contained one hundred and thirty-nine articles; it had been drawn up in less than a month. We could not have been quicker, but we might have done better. We had adopted many of the little articles which Cormenin had brought us in turns; but we had rejected a yet greater number, which caused their author an irritation, which was so much the greater in that he had never had an opportunity of giving vent to it. He turned to the public for consolation. He published, or caused to be published, I forget which it was, in all the newspapers an article in which he related what had passed in the Committee, attributing all the good it had done to M. de Cormenin, and all the harm to his adversaries. A publication of this sort displeased us greatly, as may be imagined; and it was decided to acquaint Cormenin with the feeling inspired by his procedure. But no one cared to be the spokesman of the company.
We had among us a workman (for in those days they put workmen into everything) called Corbon, a tolerably right-minded man of firm character. He readily undertook the task. On the next morning, therefore, so soon as the sitting of the Committee had opened, Corbon stood up and, with cruel simplicity and conciseness, gave Cormenin to understand what we thought. Cormenin grew confused, and cast his eyes round the table to see if anybody would come to his aid. Nobody moved. He then said, in a hesitating voice, “Am I to conclude from what has just happened that the Committee wishes me to leave it?” We made no reply. He took his hat and went, without anyone interfering. Never was so great an outrage swallowed with less effort or grimace. I believe that, although enormously vain, he was not very sensitive to insults in secret; and as long as his self-love was well tickled in public, he would not have made many bones about receiving a few cuffs in private.
Many have believed that Cormenin, who from a viscount had suddenly become a Radical, while remaining a devout Catholic, never ceased to play a part and to betray his opinions. I would not venture to say that this was the case, although I have often observed strange inconsistencies between the things he said when talking and those he wrote; and to tell the truth, he always seemed to me to be more sincere in the dread he entertained of revolutions than in the opinions he had borrowed from them. What always especially struck me in him was the shortcomings of his mind. No writer ever to a greater extent preserved in public business the habits and peculiarities of that calling. When he had established a certain agreement between the different clauses of a law and drawn it up in a certain ingenious and striking manner, he thought he had done all that was necessary: he was absorbed in questions of form, of symmetry, and cohesion.
But what he especially sought for was novelty. Institutions which had already been tried elsewhere or elsewhen seemed to him as hateful as common-places, and the first merit of a law in his eyes was to resemble in no way that which had preceded it. It is known that the law laying down the Constitution was his work. At the time of the General Election I met him and he said, with a certain complacency, “Has anything in the world ever been seen like what is seen to-day? Where is the country that has gone so far as to give votes to servants, paupers and soldiers? Confess that no one ever thought of it before.” And rubbing his hands, he added, “It will be very curious to see the result.” He spoke of it as though it were an experiment in chemistry.
Hubert and René de Tocqueville.—Cte. de T.
Auguste Blanqui, brother to Jérôme Adolphe Blanqui the economist.—A. T. de M.
The Right Honble. Monckton Milnes, the late Lord Houghton.—A. T. de M.
Of the Institute, a brother of Blanqui of the 15th of May.
There is a great hiatus in this chapter, due to my not mentioning the discussions and resolutions relating to general principles. Many of the discussions were fairly thorough, and most of the resolutions were tolerably wise and even courageous. Most of the revolutionary and socialistic raptures of the time were combated in them. We were prepared and on our guard on these general questions.
I received 496 votes.