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Chapter 5

LETTER V.

National Guards in the Court of the Palace.—Unclaimed Dead in the Morgue.—View of the Scene of Action.—A blundering Artillerist.—Singular Spectacle.—The Machinations of the Government—Martial Law.—Violations of the Charter.—Laughable Scene in the Carrousel.—A refractory Private of the National Guard.

Dear ——,

The day after the contest was closed, I went to the Louvre, where I usually met Mr. M——, who was busy copying. He was almost alone, in the long and gorgeous galleries, as in the days of the cholera; but we got a view of the National Guards that had been concerned in the affair of the previous day, who were drawn up in the court of the palace to receive the thanks of the King. There could not have been five thousand of them, but all might not have been present.

From the Louvre I went to took at the principal scene of action. A collection of some of the unclaimed dead was in the Morgue, and every one was allowed to enter. There were fifty or sixty bodies in this place, and among them were a few women and children, who had probably been killed by accident. Nearly all had fallen by gun-shot wounds, principally musket-balls; but a few had been killed by grape. As the disaffected had fought under cover most of the time, I fancy the cavalry did little in this affair. It was whispered that agents of the police were present to watch the countenances and actions of the spectators, with a view to detect the disaffected.

As we had several of Napoleon's soldiers at dinner yesterday, and they had united to praise the military character of the position taken by the revellers, I was curious to examine it. The Rue St. Méry is narrow, and the houses are high. The tower of the church is a little advanced, so as to enfilade it, in a manner, and the paving-stones had been used to make barricades, as in 1830. These stones are much larger than our own, are angular, and of a size that works very well into a wall; and the materials being plenty, a breastwork, that is proof against everything but artillery, is soon formed by a crowd. Two streets entered the Rue St. Méry near each other, but not in a right line, so that the approach along each is commanded by the house that stands across its end. One of these houses appears to have been a citadel of the disaffected, and most of the fighting was at and near this spot. Artillery had been brought up against the house in question, which was completely riddled, though less injured by round-shot than one could have thought possible. The windows were broken, and the ceilings of the upper rooms were absolutely torn to pieces by musket-balls, that had entered on the rise. Some twenty or thirty dead were found in this dwelling.

I had met Col.—, in the course of the morning, and we visited this spot together. He told me that curiosity had led him to penetrate as far as this street, which faces the citadel of the revolters, the previous day, and he showed me a porte-cochère, under which he had taken shelter, during a part of the attack. The troops engaged were a little in advance of him, and he described them as repeatedly recoiling from the fire of the house, which, at times, was rather sharp. The troops, however, were completely exposed, and fought to great disadvantage. Several hundreds must have been killed and wounded at and near this spot.

There existed plain proof of the importance of nerve in battle, in a shot that just appeared sticking in the wall of one of the lateral buildings, nearly opposite the porte-cochère, where Col.—had taken shelter. The artillerist who pointed the gun from which it had been discharged, had the two sides of the street to assist his range, and yet his shot had hit one of the lateral buildings, at no great distance from the gun, and at a height that would have sent it far above the chimneys of the house at which it was fired! But any one in the least acquainted with life, knows that great allowances must be made for the poetry, when he reads of "charges," "free use of the bayonet," and "braving murderous discharges of grape." Old and steady troops do sometimes display extraordinary fortitude, but I am inclined to think that the most brilliant things are performed by those who have been drilled just long enough to obey orders and act together, but who are still so young as not to know exactly the amount of the risk they run. Extraordinary acts of intrepidity are related of the revolters on this occasion, which are most probably true, as this desperate self-devotion, under a state of high excitement, enters fully into the composition of the character of the French, who are more distinguished for their dashing than for their enduring qualities.

The Rue St. Méry exhibited proofs of the late contest, for some distance, but nowhere had the struggle been so fierce as at the house just mentioned. The church had been yielded the last, but it did not strike me that there had been as sharp fighting near it, as at the other place.

It was a strange spectacle to witness the population of a large town crowding through its streets, curious to witness the scene of a combat that so nearly touched their own interests, and yet apparently regarding the whole with entire indifference to everything but the physical results. I thought the sympathies of the throng were with the conquered rather than with their conquerors, and this more from admiration of their prowess, than from any feeling of a political character, for no one appeared to know who the revolters were.

In the course of the morning I met—in the street. He is one of the justest-minded men of my acquaintance, and I have never known him attempt to exaggerate the ill conduct of his political opponents, or to extenuate the errors of those to whom he belongs. Speaking of this affair, he was of opinion that the government had endeavoured to bring it on, with the certainly that success would strengthen them, but, at the same time, he thought it useless to deny that there was a plot to overturn the present dynasty. According to his impressions, the spontaneous movements of the disaffected were so blended with those that proceeded from the machinations of the government to provoke a premature explosion, that it was not easy to say which predominated, or where the line of separation was to be drawn. I presume this is the true state of the case, for it is too much to say that France is ever free from political plots.

The public had been alarmed this morning, by rumours of an intention on the part of government to declare Paris in a state of siege, which is tantamount to bringing us all under martial law. This savours more of the regime Napoleon, than of the promised liberty that was to emanate from the three days. The opposition are beginning to examine the charter, in order to ascertain what their rights are on paper: but what avails a written compact, or indeed any other compact, against the wants and wishes of those who have the power? The Cour de Cassation, however, is said to be composed of a majority of Carlists, and, by way of commentary on the wants of the last two years, the friends of liberty have some hopes yet from these nominees of the Bourbons! We live in a droll world, dear ——, and one scarcely knows on which side he is to look for protection, among the political weathercocks of the period. In order to comprehend the point, you will understand that a clause of the charter expressly stipulates that no one shall be condemned by any "but his natural judges," which clearly means that no extraordinary or unusual courts shall be established for the punishment of ordinary crimes. Now, while it is admitted that martial law brings with it military tribunals and military punishments, it is contended that there is no pretext for declaring martial law in the capital, at a moment when the power of the present government is better assured than it has been at any time since its organization. But the charter solemnly stipulates that the conscription shall be abolished, while conscripts are and have been regularly drafted yearly, ever since the signature of Louis XVIII. was affixed to the instrument.

The shops were all open to-day, and business and pleasure are resuming their regular rounds. The National Guards of the banlieue, who were actively engaged yesterday, are befêted and be-praised, while the lookers-on affirm that some of them believe they have just been fighting against the Carlists, and that some think they have crushed the Jacobins. All believe they have done a good turn to liberty.

I was returning through the Carrousel, when chance made me the spectator of a laughable scene. A body of these troops, honest, well-intentioned countrymen, with very equivocal equipments, were still in the court of the palace. It would seem that one warrior had strayed outside the railing, where he was enjoying a famous gossip with some neighbours, whom he was paying, for their cheer, by a narrative of the late campaign. A sergeant was summoning him back to his colours, but the love of good wine and a good gossip were too strong for discipline. The more dignified the sergeant became, the more refractory was his neighbour, until, at last, the affair ended in a summons as formal as that which would be made to a place besieged. The answer was truly heroic, being rendered into the vernacular, "I won't." An old woman advanced from the crowd to reason with the sergeant, but she could get no farther than "Ecoutez, Mons. le Sergeant"—for, like all in authority, he was unreasonable and impatient when his power was called in question. He returned to the battalion, and tried to get a party to arrest the delinquent, but this was easier said than done. The troops evidently had no mind to disturb a neighbour who had just done the state good service, and who was now merely enjoying himself. The officer returned alone, and once more summoned the truant, if possible, more solemnly than ever. By this time the mouth of the delinquent was too full to answer, and he just turned his back on the dignitary, by way of letting him see that, his mind was made up. In the end, the soldier got the best of it, compelling the other to abandon the point.

The country people, of whom there were a good many present, looked on the matter seriously, but the Parisians laughed outright. I mention this little incident, for it shows that men are the same everywhere, and because this was an instance of military insubordination directly under the windows of the palace of the King of France, at the precise moment when his friends were boasting that the royal authority was triumphant, which, had it occurred in the interior of America, would have been quoted as proof of the lawlessness of democracy! I apprehend that militia, taken from their daily occupations, and embodied, and this, too, under the orders of their friends and neighbours, are pretty much alike, in their leading characteristics, all over the world.




James Fenimore Cooper

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