Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER IX: THE DAYS OF JUNE. - The Recollections of Alexis de Tocqueville
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CHAPTER IX: THE DAYS OF JUNE. - Alexis de Tocqueville, The Recollections of Alexis de Tocqueville 
The Recollections of Alexis de Tocqueville, edited by the Comte de Tocqueville and now first translated into English by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos. With a portrait in Heliogravure (New York: Macmillan, 1896).
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THE 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.
Of the Institute, a brother of Blanqui of the 15th of May.