ONE FOOT IN THE TOMB
Cournet was waiting for us. He received us on the ground floor, in a
parlor where there was a fire, a table, and some chairs; but the room
was so small that a quarter of us filled it to overflowing, and the
others remained in the courtyard. "It is impossible to deliberate here,"
said Bancel. "I have a larger room on the first floor," answered
Cournet, "but it is a building in course of construction, which is not
yet furnished, and where there is no fire."--"What does it matter?" they
answered him. "Let us go up to the first floor."
We went up to the first floor by a steep and narrow wooden staircase,
and we took possession of two rooms with very low ceilings, but of which
one was sufficiently large. The walls were whitewashed, and a few
straw-covered stools formed the whole of its furniture.
They called out to me, "Preside."
I sat down on one of the stools in the corner of the first room, with
the fire place on my right and on my left the door opening upon the
staircase. Baudin said to me, "I have a pencil and paper. I will act as
secretary to you." He sat down on a stool next to me.
The Representatives and those present, amongst whom were several men in
blouses, remained standing, forming in front of Baudin and myself a sort
of square, backed by the two walls of the room opposite to us. This
crowd extended as far as the staircase. A lighted candle was placed on
A common spirit animated this meeting. The faces were pale, but in every
eye could be seen the same firm resolution. In all these shadows
glistened the same flame. Several simultaneously asked permission to
speak. I requested them to give their names to Baudin, who wrote them
down, and then passed me the list.
first speaker was a workman. He began by apologizing for mingling with
the Representatives, he a stranger to the Assembly. The Representatives
interrupted him. "No, no," they said, "the People and Representatives
are all one! Speak--!" He declared that if he spoke it was in order to
clear from all suspicion the honor of his brethren, the workmen of
Paris; that he had heard some Representatives express doubt about them.
He asserted that this was unjust, that the workmen realized the whole
crime of M. Bonaparte and the whole duty of the People, that they would
not be deaf to the appeal of the Republican Representatives, and that
this would be clearly shown. He said all this, simply, with a sort of
proud shyness and of honest bluntness. He kept his word. I found him the
next day fighting on the Rambuteau barricade.
Mathieu (de la Drôme) came in as the workman concluded. "I bring news,"
he exclaimed. A profound silence ensued.
As I have already said, we vaguely knew since the morning that the Right
were to have assembled, and that a certain number of our friends had
probably taken part in the meeting, and that was all. Mathieu (de la
Drôme) brought us the events of the day, the details of the arrests at
their own houses carried out without any obstacle, of the meeting which
had taken place at M. Daru's house and its rough treatment in the Rue
de Bourgogne, of the Representatives expelled from the Hall of the
Assembly, of the meanness of President Dupin, of the melting away of the
High Court, of the total inaction of the Council of State, of the sad
sitting held at the Mairie of the Tenth Arrondissement, of the Oudinot,
_fiasco_, of the decree of the deposition of the President, and of the
two hundred and twenty forcibly arrested and taken to the Quai d'Orsay.
He concluded in a manly style: "The duty of the Left was increasing
hourly. The morrow would probably prove decisive." He implored the
meeting to take this into consideration.
A workman added a fact. He had happened in the morning to be in the Rue
de Grenelle during the passage of the arrested members of the Assembly;
he was there at the moment when one of the commanders of the Chasseurs
de Vincennes had uttered these words, "Now it is the turn of those
gentlemen--the Red Representatives. Let them look out for themselves!"
One of the editors of the _Révolution_, Hennett de Kesler, who
afterwards became an intrepid exile, completed the information of
Mathieu (de la Drôme). He recounted the action taken by two members of
the Assembly with regard to the so-called Minister of the Interior,
Morny, and the answer of the said Morny: "If I find any of the
Representatives behind the barricades, I will have them shot to the last
man," and that other saying of the same witty vagabond respecting the
members taken to the Quai d'Orsay, "These are the last Representatives
who will be made prisoners." He told us that a placard was at that very
moment being printed which declared that "Any one who should be found at
a secret meeting would be immediately shot." The placard, in truth,
appeared the next morning.
Baudin rose up. "The _coup d'état_ redoubles its rage," exclaimed he.
"Citizens, let us redouble our energy!"
Suddenly a man in a blouse entered. He was out of breath. He had run
hard. He told us that he had just seen, and he repeated, had seen with
"his own eyes," in the Rue Popincourt, a regiment marching in silence,
and wending its way towards the blind alley of No. 82, that we were
surrounded, and that we were about to be attacked. He begged us to
"Citizen Representatives," called out Cournet, "I have placed scouts in
the blind alley who will fall back and warn us if the regiment penetrates
thither. The door is narrow and will be barricaded in the twinkling of
an eye. We are here, with you, fifty armed and resolute men, and at the
first shot we shall be two hundred. We are provided with ammunition. You
can deliberate calmly."
And as he concluded he raised his right arm, and from his sleeve fell
a large poniard, which he had concealed, and with the other hand he
rattled in his pocket the butts of a pair of pistols.
"Very well," said I, "let us continue."
Three of the youngest and most eloquent orators of the Left, Bancel,
Arnauld (de l'Ariége) and Victor Chauffour delivered their opinions in
succession. All three were imbued with this notion, that our appeal to
arms not having yet been placarded, the different incidents of the
Boulevarde du Temple and of the Café Bonvalet having brought about no
results, none of our decrees, owing to the repressive measures of
Bonaparte, having yet succeeded in appearing, while the events at the
Mairie of the Tenth Arrondissement began to be spread abroad through
Paris, it seemed as though the Right had commenced active resistance
before the Left. A generous rivalry for the public safety spurred them
on. It was delightful to them to know that a regiment ready to attack was
close by, within a few steps, and that perhaps in a few moments their
blood would flow.
Moreover, advice abounded, and with advice, uncertainty. Some illusions
were still entertained. A workman, leaning close to me against the
fireplace, said in a low voice to one of his comrades that the People
must not be reckoned upon, and that if we fought "We should perpetrate a
The incidents and events of the day had in some degree modified my
opinion as to the course to be followed in this grave crisis. The
silence of the crowd at the moment when Arnauld (de l'Ariége) and I had
apostrophized the troops, had destroyed the impression which a few hours
before the enthusiasm of the people on the Boulevard du Temple had left
with me. The hesitation of Auguste had impressed me, the Society of
Cabinet Makers appeared to shun us, the torpor of the Faubourg St.
Antoine was manifest, the inertness of the Faubourg St. Marceau was not
less so. I ought to have received notice from the engineer before eleven
o'clock, and eleven o'clock was past. Our hopes died away one after
another. Nevertheless, all the more reason, in my opinion, to astonish
and awaken Paris by an extraordinary spectacle, by a daring act of life
and collective power on the part of the Representatives of the Left, by
the daring of an immense devotion.
It will be seen later on what a combination of accidental circumstances
prevented this idea from being realized as I then purposed. The
Representatives have done their whole duty. Providence perhaps has not
done all on its side. Be it as it may, supposing that we were not at
once carried off by some nocturnal and immediate combat, and that at the
hour at which I was speaking we had still a "to-morrow," I felt the
necessity of fixing every eye upon the course which should be adopted
on the day which was about to follow.--I spoke.
I began by completely unveiling the situation. I painted the picture in
four words: the Constitution thrown into the gutter; the Assembly driven
to prison with the butt-end of a musket, the Council of State dispersed;
the High Court expelled by a galley-sergeant, a manifest beginning of
victory for Louis Bonaparte, Paris ensnared in the army as though in a
net; bewilderment everywhere, all authority overthrown; all compacts
annulled; two things only remained standing, the _coup d'état_ and
"Ourselves! and who are we?"
"We are," said I, "we are Truth and Justice! We are the supreme and
sovereign power, the People incarnate--Right!"
"Louis Bonaparte at every minute which elapses advances a step further
in his crime. For him nothing is inviolable, nothing is sacred; this
morning he violated the Palace of the Representatives of the Nation, a
few hours later he laid violent hands on their persons; to-morrow,
perhaps in a few moments, he will shed their blood. Well then! he
marches upon us, let us march upon him. The danger grows greater, let us
grow greater with the danger."
A movement of assent passed through the Assembly. I continued,--
"I repeat and insist. Let us show no mercy to this wretched Bonaparte
for any of the enormities which his outrage contains. As he has drawn
the wine--I should say the blood--he must drink it up. We are not
individuals, we are the Nation. Each of us walks forth clothed with the
Sovereignty of the people. He cannot strike our persons without rending
that. Let us compel his volleys to pierce our sashes as well as our
breasts. This man is on a road where logic grasps him and leads him to
parricide. What he is killing in this moment is the country! Well, then!
when the ball of Executive Power pierces the sash of Legislative Power,
it is visible parricide! It is this that must be understood!"
quite ready!" they cried out. "What measures would you advise us to
"No half measures," answered I; "a deed of grandeur! To-morrow--if we
leave here this night--let us all meet in the Faubourg St. Antoine."
They interposed, "Why the Faubourg St. Antoine?"
"Yes," resumed I, "the Faubourg St. Antoine! I cannot believe that the
heart of the People has ceased to beat there. Let us all meet to-morrow
in the Faubourg St. Antoine. Opposite the Lenoir Market there is a hall
which was used by a club in 1848."
They cried out to me, "The Salle Roysin."
"That is it," said I, "The Salle Roysin. We who remain free number a
hundred and twenty Republican Representatives. Let us install ourselves
in this hall. Let us install ourselves in the fulness and majesty of the
Legislative Power. Henceforward we are the Assembly, the whole of the
Assembly! Let us sit there, deliberate there, in our official sashes,
in the midst of the People. Let us summon the Faubourg St. Antoine to
its duty, let us shelter there the National Representation, let us
shelter there the popular sovereignty. Let us intrust the People to the
keeping of the People. Let us adjure them to protect themselves. If
necessary, let us order them!"
A voice interrupted me: "You cannot give orders to the People!"
"Yes!" I cried, "When it is a question of public safety, of the universal
safety, when it is a question of the future of every European
nationality, when it is a question of defending the Republic, Liberty,
Civilization, the Revolution, we have the right--we, the Representatives
of the entire nation--to give, in the name of the French people, orders
to the people of Paris! Let us, therefore, meet to-morrow at this Salle
Roysin; but at what time? Not too early in the morning. In broad day. It
is necessary that the shops should be open, that people should be coming
and going, that the population should be moving about, that there should
be plenty of people in the streets, that they should see us, that they
should recognize us, that the grandeur of our example should strike every
eye and stir every heart. Let us all be there between nine and ten
o'clock in the morning. If we cannot obtain the Salle Roysin we will take
the first church at hand, a stable, a shed, some enclosure where we can
deliberate; at need, as Michel de Bourges has said, we will hold our
sittings in a square bounded by four barricades. But provisionally I
suggest the Salle Roysin. Do not forget that in such a crisis there must
be no vacuum before the nation. That alarms it. There must be a
government somewhere, and it must be known. The rebellion at the Elysée,
the Government at the Faubourg St. Antoine; the Left the Government, the
Faubourg St. Antoine the citadel; such are the ideas which from to-morrow
we must impress upon the mind of Paris. To the Salle Roysin, then! Thence
in the midst of the dauntless throng of workmen of that great district of
Paris, enclosed in the Faubourg as in a fortress, being both Legislators
and Generals, multiplying and inventing means of defence and of attack,
launching Proclamations and unearthing the pavements, employing the women
in writing out placards while the men are fighting, we will issue a
warrant against Louis Bonaparte, we will issue warrants against his
accomplices, we will declare the military chiefs traitors, we will outlaw
in a body all the crime and all the criminals, we will summon the
citizens to arms, we will recall the army to duty, we will rise up before
Louis Bonaparte, terrible as the living Republic, we will fight on the
one hand with the power of the Law, and on the other with the power of
the People, we will overwhelm this miserable rebel, and will rise up
above his head both as a great Lawful Power and a great Revolutionary
While speaking I became intoxicated with my own ideas. My enthusiasm
communicated itself to the meeting. They cheered me. I saw that I was
becoming somewhat too hopeful, that I allowed myself to be carried away,
and that I carried them away, that I presented to them success as
possible, as even easy, at a moment when it was important that no one
should entertain an illusion. The truth was gloomy, and it was my duty
to tell it. I let silence be re-established, and I signed with my hand
that I had a last word to say. I then resumed, lowering my voice,--
"Listen, calculate carefully what you are doing. On one side a hundred
thousand men, seventeen harnessed batteries, six thousand cannon-mouths
in the forts, magazines, arsenals, ammunition sufficient to carry out a
Russian campaign; on the other a hundred and twenty Representatives, a
thousand or twelve hundred patriots, six hundred muskets, two cartridges
per man, not a drum to beat to arms, not a bell to sound the tocsin, not
a printing office to print a Proclamation; barely here and there a
lithographic press, and a cellar where a hand-bill can be hurriedly and
furtively printed with the brush; the penalty of death against any one
who unearths a paving stone, penalty of death against any one who would
enlist in our ranks, penalty of death against any one who is found in a
secret meeting, penalty of death against any one who shall post up an
appeal to arms; if you are taken during the combat, death; if you are
taken after the combat, transportation or exile; on the one side an army
and a Crime; on the other a handful of men and Right. Such is this
struggle. Do you accept it?"
A unanimous shout answered me, "Yes! yes!"
This shout did not come from the mouths, it came from the souls. Baudin,
still seated next to me, pressed my hand in silence.
It was settled therefore at once that they should meet again on the next
day, Wednesday, between nine and ten in the morning, at the Salle Roysin,
that they should arrive singly or by little separate groups, and that
they should let those who were absent know of this rendezvous. This
done, there remained nothing more but to separate. It was about
One of Cournet's scouts entered. "Citizen Representatives," he said,
"the regiment is no longer there. The street is free."
The regiment, which had probably come from the Popincourt barracks close
at hand, had occupied the street opposite the blind alley for more than
half an hour, and then had returned to the barracks. Had they judged the
attack inopportune or dangerous at night in that narrow blind alley, and
in the centre of this formidable Popincourt district, where the
insurrection had so long held its own in June, 1848? It appeared certain
that the soldiers had searched several houses in the neighborhood.
According to details which we learned subsequently, we were followed
after leaving No. 2, Quai Jemmapes, by an agent of police, who saw us
enter the house where a M. Cornet was lodging, and who at once proceeded
to the Prefecture to denounce our place of refuge to his chiefs. The
regiment sent to arrest us surrounded the house, ransacked it from attic
to cellar, found nothing, and went away.
This quasi-synonym of Cornet and Cournet lead misled the bloodhounds of
the _coup d'état_. Chance, we see, had interposed usefully in our
I was talking at the door with Baudin, and we were making some last
arrangements, when a young man with a chestnut beard, dressed like a man
of fashion, and possessing all the manners of one, and whom I had
noticed while speaking, came up to me.
"Monsieur Victor Hugo," said he, "where are you going to sleep?"
Up to that moment I had not thought of this.
It was far from prudent to go home.
"In truth," I answered, "I have not the least idea."
"Will you come to my house?"
"I shall be very happy."
He told me his mane. It was M. de la R----. He knew my brother Abel's
wife and family, the Montferriers, relations of the Chambacères, and he
lived in the Rue Caumartin. He had been a Prefect under the Provisional
Government. There was a carriage in waiting. We got in, and as Baudin
told me that he would pass the night at Cournet's, I gave him the
address of M. do la R----, so that he could send for me if any notice of
the movement came from the Faubourg St. Marceau or elsewhere. But I
hoped for nothing more that night, and I was right.
About a quarter of an hour after the separation of the Representatives,
and after we had left the Rue Popincourt, Jules Favre, Madier de
Montajau, de Flotte, and Carnot, to whom we had sent word to the Rue des
Moulins, arrived at Cournet's, accompanied by Schoelcher, by Charamaule,
by Aubry (du Nord), and by Bastide. Some Representatives were still
remaining at Cournet's. Several, like Baudin, were going to pass the
night there. They told our colleagues what had been settled respecting
my proposition, and of the rendezvous at the Salle Roysin; only it
appears that there was some doubt regarding the hour agreed upon, and
that Baudin in particular did not exactly remember it, and that our
colleagues believed that the rendezvous, which had been fixed for nine
o'clock in the morning, was fixed for eight.
This alteration in the hour, due to the treachery of memory for which no
one can be blamed, prevented the realization of the plan which I had
conceived of an Assembly holding its sittings in the Faubourg, and
giving battle to Louis Bonaparte, but gave us as a compensation the
heroic exploits of the Ste. Marguerite barricade.
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