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Chapter 17


CONDUCT OF THE LEFT

The conduct of the Republican Left in this grave crisis of the 2d of
December was memorable.

The flag of the Law was on the ground, in the mire of universal treason,
under the feet of Louis Bonaparte; the Left raised this flag, washed
away the mire with its blood, unfurled it, waved it before the eyes of
the people, and from the 2d to the 5th of December held Bonaparte at
bay.

A few men, a mere handful, 120 Representatives of the people escaped by
chance from arrest, plunged in darkness and in silence, without even
possessing that cry of the free press which sounds the tocsin to human
intellects, and which encourages the combatants, without generals under
their orders, without soldiers, without ammunition, went down into the
streets, resolutely barred the way against the _coup d'état_, and gave
battle to this monstrous crime, which had taken all its precautions,
which was mail-clad in every part, armed to the teeth, crowding round it
forests of bayonets, and making a pack of mortars and cannons give
tongue in its favor.

They had that presence of mind, which is the most practical kind of
courage; they had, while lacking everything else, the formidable
improvisation of duty, which never loses heart. They had no
printing-offices, they obtained them; they had no guns, they found them;
they had no balls, they cast them; they had no powder, they manufactured
it; they had nothing but paving-stones, and from thence they evolved
combatants.

It is true that these paving-stones were the paving-stones of Paris,
stones which change themselves into men.

Such is the power of Right, that, during four days these hundred and
twenty men, who had nothing in their favor but the goodness of their
cause, counterbalanced an army of 100,000 soldiers. At one moment the
scale turned on their side. Thanks to them, thanks to their resistance,
seconded by the indignation of honest hearts, there came an hour when
the victory of the law seemed possible, and even certain. On Thursday,
the 4th, the _coup d'état_ tottered, and was obliged to support itself
by assassination. We seen that without the butchery of the boulevards,
if he had not saved his perjury by a massacre, if he had not sheltered
his crime by another crime, Louis Bonaparte was lost.

During the long hours of this struggle, a struggle without a truce, a
struggle against the army during the day and against the police during
the night,--an unequal struggle, where all the strength and all the rage
was on one side, and, as we have just said, nothing but Right on the
other, not one of these hundred and twenty Representatives, not a single
one failed at the call of duty, not one shunned the danger, not one drew
back, not one wearied,--all these heads placed themselves resolutely
under the axe, and for four days waited for it to fall.

To-day captivity, transportation, expatriation, exile, the axe has
fallen on nearly all these heads.

I am one of those who have had no other merit in this struggle than to
rally into one unique thought the courage of all; but let me here
heartily render justice to those men amongst whom I pride myself with
having for three years served the holy cause of human progress, to this
Left, insulted, calumniated, unappreciated, and dauntless, which was
always in the breach, and which did not repose for a single day, which
recoiled none the more before the military conspiracy than before the
parliamentary conspiracy, and which, entrusted by the people with the
task of defending them, defended them even when abandoned by themselves;
defended them in the tribune with speech, and in the street with the
sword.

When the Committee of Resistance in the sitting at which the decree of
deposition and of outlawry was drawn up and voted, making use of the
discretionary power which the Left had confided to it, decided that all
the signatures of the Republican Representatives remaining at liberty
should be placed at the foot of the decree, it was a bold stroke; the
Committee did not conceal from itself that it was a list of proscription
offered to the victorious _coup d'état_ ready drawn up, and perhaps in
its inner conscience it feared that some would disavow it, and protest
against it. As a matter of fact, the next day we received two letters,
two complaints. They were from two Representatives who had been omitted
from the list, and who claimed the honor of being reinstated there. I
reinstate these two Representatives here, in their right of being
proscripts. Here are their names--Anglade and Pradié.

From Tuesday, the 2d, to Friday, the 5th of December, the
Representatives of the Left and the Committee, dogged, worried, hunted
down, always on the point of being discovered and taken, that is to
say--massacred; repaired for the purpose of deliberating, to
twenty-seven different houses, shifted twenty-seven times their place of
meeting, from their first gathering in the Rue Blanche to their last
conference at Raymond's. They refused the shelters which were offered
them on the left bank of the river, wishing always to remain in the
centre of the combat. During these changes they more than once traversed
the right bank of Paris from one end to the other, most of the time on
foot, and making long circuits in order not to be followed. Everything
threatened them with danger; their number, their well-known faces, even
their precautions. In the populous streets there was danger, the police
were permanently posted there; in the lonely streets there was danger,
because the goings and comings were more noticed there.

They did not sleep, they did not eat, they took what they could find, a
glass of water from time to time, a morsel of bread here and there.
Madame Landrin gave us a basin of soup, Madame Grévy the remainder of a
cold pie. We dined one evening on a little chocolate which a chemist had
distributed in a barricade. At Jeunesse's, in the Rue de Grammont,
during the night of the 3rd, Michel de Bourges took a chair, and said,
"This is my bed." Were they tired? They did not feel it. The old men,
like Ronjat, the sick, like Boysset, all went forward. The public peril,
like a fever, sustained them.

Our venerable colleague, Lamennais, did not come, but he remained three
days without going to bed, buttoned up in his old frock coat, his thick
boots on his feet, ready to march. He wrote to the author these three
lines, which it is impossible not to quote:--"You are heroes without me.
This pains me greatly. I await your orders. Try, then, to find me
something to do, be it but to die."

In these meetings each man preserved his usual demeanor. At times one
might have thought it an ordinary sitting in one of the bureaux of the
Assembly. There was the calm of every day, mingled with the firmness of
decisive crises. Edgar Quinet retained all his lofty judgment, Noël
Parfait all his mental vivacity, Yvan all his vigorous and intelligent
penetration, Labrousse all his animation. In a corner Pierre Lefranc,
pamphleteer and ballad-writer, but a pamphleteer like Courier, and a
ballad-writer like Béranger smiled at the grave and stern words of
Dupont de Bussac. All that brilliant group of young orators of the Left,
Baneel with his powerful ardor, Versigny and Victor Chauffour with their
youthful daring. Sain with his coolheadedness which reveals strength,
Farconnet with his gentle voice and his energetic inspiration, lavishing
his efforts in resisting the _coup d'état_, sometimes taking part in the
deliberations, at others amongst the people, proving that to be an
orator one must possess all the qualifications of a combatant. De
Flotte, indefatigable, was ever ready to traverse all Paris. Xavier
Durrieu was courageous, Dulac dauntless, Charamaule fool-hardy. Citizens
and Paladins. Courage! who would have dared to exhibit none amongst all
these men, of whom not one trembled? Untrimmed beards, torn coats,
disordered hair, pale faces, pride glistening in every eye. In the
houses where they were received they installed themselves as best they
could. If there were no sofas or chairs, some, exhausted in strength,
but not in heart, seated themselves on the floor. All became copyists of
the decrees and proclamations; one dictated, ten wrote. They wrote on
tables, on the corners of furniture, on their knees. Frequently paper
was lacking, pens were wanting. These wretched trifles created obstacles
at the most critical times. At certain moments in the history of peoples
an inkstand where the ink is dried up may prove a public calamity.
Moreover, cordiality prevailed among all, all shades of difference were
effaced. In the secret sittings of the Committee Madier de Montjau, that
firm and generous heart, De Flotte, brave and thoughtful, a fighting
philosopher of the Devolution, Carnot, accurate, cold, tranquil,
immovable, Jules Favre, eloquent, courageous, admirable through his
simplicity and his strength, inexhaustible in resources as in sarcasms,
doubled, by combining them, the diverse powers of their minds.

Michel de Bourges, seated in a corner of the fireplace, or leaning on a
table enveloped in his great coat, his black silk cap on his head, had
an answer for every suggestion, gave back to occurrences blow for blow,
was on his guard for danger, difficulty, opportunity, necessity, for his
is one of those wealthy natures which have always something ready either
in their intellect or in their imagination. Words of advice crossed
without jostling each other. These men entertained no illusion. They
knew that they had entered into a life-and-death struggle. They had no
quarter to expect. They had to do with the Man who had said, "Crush
everything." They knew the bloody words of the self-styled Minister,
Merny. These words the placards of Saint-Arnaud interpreted by decrees,
the Praetorians let loose in the street interpreted them by murder. The
members of the Insurrectionary Committee and the Representatives
assisting at the meetings were not ignorant that wherever they might be
taken they would be killed on the spot by bayonet-thrusts. It was the
fortune of this war. Yet the prevailing expression on every face was
serenity; that profound serenity which comes from a happy conscience. At
times this serenity rose to gaiety. They laughed willingly and at
everything. At the torn trousers of one, at the hat which another had
brought back from the barricade instead of his own, at the comforter of
a third. "Hide your big body," they said to him. They were children, and
everything amused them. On the morning of the 4th Mathien de la Drôme
came in. He had organized for his part a committee which communicated
with the Central Committee, he came to tell us of it. He had shaved off
his fringe of beard so as not to be recognized in the streets. "You look
like an Archbishop," said Michel de Bourges to him, and there was a
general laugh. And all this, with this thought which every moment
brought back; the noise which is heard at the door, the key which turns
in the lock is perhaps Death coming in.

The Representatives and the Committee were at the mercy of chance. More
than once they could have been captured, and they were not; either owing
to the scruples of certain police agents (where the deuce will scruples
next take up their abode?) or that these agents doubted the final
result, and feared to lay their hand heedlessly upon possible victors.
If Vassal, the Commissary of Police, who met us on the morning of the
4th, on the pavement of the Rue des Moulins, had wished, we might have
been taken that day. He did not betray us. But these were exceptions.
The pursuit of the police was none the less ardent and implacable. At
Marie's, it may be remembered that the _sergents de ville_ and the
gendarmes arrived ten minutes after we had left the house, and that they
even ransacked under the beds with their bayonets.

Amongst the Representatives there were several Constituents, and at
their head Bastide. Bastide, in 1848, had been Minister for Foreign
Affairs. During the second night, meeting in the Rue Popincourt, they
reproached him with several of his actions. "Let me first get myself
killed," he answered, "and then you can reproach me with what you like."
And he added, "How can you distrust me, who am a Republican up to the
hilt?" Bastide would not consent to call our resistance the
"insurrection," he called it the "counter-insurrection." he said,
"Victor Hugo is right. The insurgent is at the Elysée." It was my
opinion, as we have seen, that we ought to bring the battle at once to
an issue, to defer nothing, to reserve nothing; I said, "We must strike
the _coup d'état_ while it is hot." Bastide supported me. In the combat
he was impassive, cold, gay beneath his coldness. At the Saint Antoine
barricade, at the moment when the guns of the _coup d'état_ were leveled
at the Representatives of the people, he said smilingly to Madier de
Montjau, "Ask Schoelcher what he thinks of the abolition of the penalty
of death." (Schoelcher, like myself, at this supreme moment, would have
answered, "that it ought to be abolished") In another barricade Bastide,
compelled to absent himself for a moment, placed his pipe on a
paving-stone. They found Bastide's pipe, and they thought him dead. He
came back, and it was hailing musket-balls; he said, "My pipe?" he
relighted it and resumed the fight. Two balls pierced his coat.

When the barricades were constructed, the Republican Representatives
spread themselves abroad; and distributed themselves amongst them.
Nearly all the Representatives of the Left repaired to the barricades,
assisting either to build them or to defend them. Besides the great
exploit at Saint Antoine barricade, where Schoelcher was so admirable,
Esquiros went to the barricade of the Rue de Charonne, De Flotte to
those of the Pantheon and of the Chapelle Saint Denis, Madier de
Montjau to those of Belleville and the Rue Aumaire, Doutre and Pelletier
to that of the Mairie of the Fifth Arrondissement, Brives to that of Rue
Beaubourg, Arnauld de l'Ariège to that of Rue de Petit-Repîsoir, Viguier
to that of the Rue Pagevin, Versigny to that of the Rue Joigneaux;
Dupont de Bussac to that of the Carré Saint Martin; Carlos Forel and
Boysset to that of the Rue Rambuteau. Doutre received a sword-cut on his
head, which cleft his hat; Bourzat had four balls in his overcoat;
Baudin was killed; Gaston Dussoubs was ill and could not come; his
brother, Denis Dussoubs, replaced him. Where? In the tomb.

Baudin fell on the first barricade, Denis Dussoubs on the last.

I was less favored than Bourzat; I only had three balls in my overcoat,
and it is impossible for me to say whence they came. Probably from the
boulevard.

After the battle was lost there was no general helter-skelter, no rout,
no flight. All remained hidden in Paris ready to reappear, Michel in the
Rue d'Alger, myself in the Rue de Navarin. The Committee held yet
another sitting on Saturday, the 6th, at eleven o'clock at night. Jules
Favre, Michel de Bourges, and myself, we came during the night to the
house of a generous and brave woman, Madame Didier. Bastide came there
and said to me, "If you are not killed here, you are going to enter upon
exile. For myself, I am going to remain in Paris. Take me for your
lieutenant." I have related this incident.

They hoped for the 9th (Tuesday) a resumption of arms, which did not
take place. Malarmet had announced it to Dupont de Bussac, but the blow
of the 4th had prostrated Paris. The populace no longer stirred. The
Representatives did not resolve to think of their safety, and to quit
France through a thousand additional dangers until several days
afterwards, when the last spark of resistance was extinguished in the
heart of the people, and the last glimmer of hope in heaven.

Several Republican Representatives were workmen; they have again become
workmen in exile. Nadaud has resumed his trowel, and is a mason in
London. Faure (du Rhône), a cutler, and Bansept, a shoemaker, felt that
their trade had become their duty, and practise it in England. Faure
makes knives, Bansept makes boots. Greppo is a weaver, it was he who
when a proscript made the coronation robe of Queen Victoria. Gloomy
smile of Destiny. Noël Parfait is a proof-reader at Brussels; Agricol
Perdiguier, called Avignonnais-la-Vertu, has girded on his leathern
apron, and is a cabinet-maker at Antwerp. Yesterday these men sat in the
Sovereign Assembly. Such things as these are seen in Plutarch.

The eloquent and courageous proscript, Emile Deschanel, has created at
Brussels, with a rare talent of speech, a new form of public
instruction, the Conferences. To him is due the honor of this
foundation, so fruitful and so useful.

Let us say in conclusion that the National Legislative Assembly lived
badly but died well.

At this moment of the fall, irreparable for the cowards, the Right was
worthy, the Left was great.

Never before has History seen a Parliament fall in this manner.

February had blown upon the Deputies of the legal country, and the
Deputies had vanished. M. Sauzet had sunk down behind the tribune, and
had gone away without even taking his hat.

Bonaparte, the other, the first, the true Bonaparte, had made the "Five
Hundred" step out of the windows of the Orangery of Saint Cloud,
somewhat embarrassed with their large mantles.

Cromwell, the oldest of the Bonapartes, when he achieved his Eighteenth
Brumaire, encountered scarcely any other resistance than a few
imprecations from Milton and from Ludlaw, and was able to say in his
boorishly gigantic language, "I have put the King in my knapsack and the
Parliament in my pocket."

We must go back to the Roman Senate in order to find true Curule chairs.

The Legislative Assembly, let us repeat, to its honor, did not lose
countenance when facing the abyss. History will keep an account of it.
After having betrayed so many things, it might have been feared that
this Assembly would end by betraying itself. It did nothing of the kind.
The Legislature, one is obliged to remember, had committed faults upon
faults; the Royalist majority had, in the most odious manner, persecuted
the Republican minority, which was bravely doing its duty in denouncing
it to the people; this Assembly had had a very long cohabitation and a
most fatal complicity with the Man of Crime, who had ended by strangling
it as a robber strangles his concubine in his bed; but whatever may be
said of this fateful Assembly, it did not exhibit that wretched
vanishing away which Louis Bonaparte hoped for; it was not a coward.

This is due to its having originated from universal suffrage. Let us
mention this, for it is an instructive lesson. The virtue of this
universal suffrage, which had begotten the Assembly and which the
Assembly had wished to slay, it felt in itself to its last hour.

The sap of a whole people does not spread in vain throughout an
Assembly, even throughout the most decrepit. On the decisive day this
sap asserts itself.

The Legislative Assembly, laden as it may be with formidable
responsibilities, will, perhaps, be less overwhelmed than it deserves by
the reprobation of posterity.

Thanks to universal suffrage, which it had deceived, and which
constituted its faith and its strength at the last moment, thanks to the
Left, which it had oppressed, scoffed at, calumniated, and decimated,
and which cast on it the glorious reflection of its heroism, this
pitiful Assembly died a grand death.


Victor Hugo