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Chapter 18


THE VERIFICATION OF MORAL LAWS

The carnage of the Boulevard Montmartre constitutes the originality of
the _coup d'Útat_. Without this butchery the 2d of December would only
be an 18th Brumaire. Owing to the massacre Louis Bonaparte escapes the
charge of plagiarism.

Up to that time he had only been an imitator. The little hat at Boulogne,
the gray overcoat, the tame eagle appeared grotesque. What did this parody
mean? people asked. He made them laugh; suddenly he made
them tremble.

He who becomes detestable ceases to be ridiculous.

Louis Bonaparte was more than detestable, he was execrable.

He envied the hugeness of great crimes; he wished to equal the worst.
This striving after the horrible has given him a special place to
himself in the menagerie of tyrants. Petty rascality trying to emulate
deep villainy, a little Nero swelling himself to a huge LacÚnaire; such
is this phenomenon. Art for art, assassination for assassination.

Louis Bonaparte has created a special genus.

It was in this manner that Louis Bonaparte made his entry into the
Unexpected. This revealed him.

Certain brains are abysses. Manifestly for a long time past Bonaparte
had harbored the design of assassinating in order to reign.
Premeditation haunts criminals, and it is in this manner that treason
begins. The crime is a long time present in them, but shapeless and
shadowy, they are scarcely conscious of it; souls only blacken
gradually. Such abominable deeds are not invented in a moment; they do
not attain perfection at once and at a single bound; they increase and
ripen, shapeless and indecisive, and the centre of the ideas in which
they exist keeps them living, ready for the appointed day, and vaguely
terrible. This design, the massacre for a throne, we feel sure, existed
for a long time in Louis Bonaparte's mind. It was classed among the
possible events of this soul. It darted hither and thither like a
_larva_ in an aquarium, mingled with shadows, with doubts, with desires,
with expedients, with dreams of one knows not what Caesarian socialism,
like a Hydra dimly visible in a transparency of chaos. Hardly was he
aware that he was fostering this hideous idea. When he needed it, he
found it, armed and ready to serve him. His unfathomable brain had
darkly nourished it. Abysses are the nurseries of monsters.

Up to this formidable day of the 4th December, Louis Bonaparte did not
perhaps quite know himself. Those who studied this curious Imperial
animal did not believe him capable of such pure and simple ferocity.
They saw in him an indescribable mongrel, applying the talents of a
swindler to the dreams of an Empire, who, even when crowned, would be a
thief, who would say of a parricide, What roguery! Incapable of gaining
a footing on any height, even of infamy, always remaining half-way
uphill, a little above petty rascals, a little below great malefactors.
They believed him clever at effecting all that is done in gambling-hells
and in robbers' caves, but with this transposition, that he would cheat
in the caves, and that he would assassinate in the gambling-hells.

The massacre of the Boulevards suddenly unveiled this spirit. They saw it
such as it really was: the ridiculous nicknames "Big-beak," "Badinguet,"
vanished; they saw the bandit, they saw the true _contraffatto_ hidden
under the false Bonaparte.

There was a shudder! It was this then which this man held in reserve!

Apologies have been attempted, they could but fail. It is easy to praise
Bonaparte, for people have praised Dupin; but it is an exceedingly
complicated operation to cleanse him. What is to be done with the 4th
of December? How will that difficulty be surmounted? It is far more
troublesome to justify than to glorify; the sponge works with greater
difficulty than the censer; the panegyrists of the _coup d'Útat_ have
lost their labor. Madame Sand herself, although a woman of lofty
intellect, has failed miserably in her attempt to rehabilitate
Bonaparte, for the simple reason that whatever one may do, the
death-roll reappears through this whitewashing.

No! no! no extenuation whatever is possible. Unfortunate Bonaparte. The
blood is drawn. It must be drunk.

The deed of the 4th of December is the most colossal dagger-thrust that
a brigand let loose upon civilization has ever effected, we will not say
upon a people, but upon the entire human race. The stroke was most
monstrous, and struck Paris to the ground. Paris on the ground is
Conscience, is Reason, is all human liberty on the ground; it is the
progress of centuries lying on the pavement; it is the torch of Justice,
of Truth, and of Life reversed and extinguished. This is what Louis
Bonaparte effected the day when he effected this.

The success of the wretch was complete. The 2d of December was lost;
the 4th of December saved the 2d of December. It was something like
Erostratus saving Judas. Paris understood that all had not yet been told
as regards deeds of horror, and that beneath the oppressor there was the
garbage-picker. It was the case of a swindler stealing CÚsar's mantle.
This man was little, it is true, but terrifying. Paris consented to this
terror, renounced the right to have the last word, went to bed and
simulated death. Suffocation had its share in the matter. This crime
resembled, too, no previous achievements. Even after centuries have
passed, and though he should be an Aeschylus or a Tacitus, any one
raising the cover would smell the stench. Paris resigned herself, Paris
abdicated, Paris surrendered; the novelty of the treason proved its
chief strength; Paris almost ceased to be Paris; on the next day the
chattering of this terrified Titan's teeth could be heard in the
shadows.

Let us lay a stress upon this, for we must verify the laws of morality.
Louis Bonaparte remained, even after the 4th of December, Napoleon the
Little. This enormity still left him a dwarf. The size of the crime does
not change the stature of the criminal, and the pettiness of the
assassin withstands the immensity of the assassination.

Be that as it may, the Pigmy had the better of the Colossus. This
avowal, humiliating as it is, cannot be evaded.

Such are the blushes to which History, that greatly dishonored one, is
condemned.

Victor Hugo