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Chapter 7


NO. 70, RUE BLANCHE

The Cité Gaillard is somewhat difficult to find. It is a deserted alley
in that new quarter which separates the Rue des Martyrs from the Rue
Blanche. I found it, however. As I reached No. 4, Yvan came out of the
gateway and said, "I am here to warn you. The police have an eye upon
this house, Michel is waiting for you at No. 70, Rue Blanche, a few
steps from here."

I knew No. 70, Rue Blanche. Manin, the celebrated President of the
Venetian Republic, lived there. It was not in his rooms, however, that
the meeting was to take place.

The porter of No. 70 told me to go up to the first floor. The door was
opened, and a handsome, gray-haired woman of some forty summers, the
Baroness Coppens, whom I recognized as having seen in society and at my
own house, ushered me into a drawing-room.

Michel de Bourges and Alexander Rey were there, the latter an
ex-Constituent, an eloquent writer, a brave man. At that time Alexander
Rey edited the _National_.

We shook hands.

Michel said to me,--

"Hugo, what will you do?"

I answered him,--

"Everything."

"That also is my opinion," said he.

Numerous representatives arrived, and amongst others Pierre Lefranc,
Labrousse, Théodore Bac, Noël Parfait, Arnauld (de l'Ariége), Demosthenes
Ollivier, an ex-Constituent, and Charamaule. There was deep and
unutterable indignation, but no useless words were spoken.

All were imbued with that manly anger whence issue great resolutions.

They talked. They set forth the situation. Each brought forward the news
which he had learnt.

Théodore Bac came from Léon Faucher, who lived in the Rue Blanche. It
was he who had awakened Léon Faucher, and had announced the news to him.
The first words of Léon Faucher were, "It is an infamous deed."

From the first moment Charamaule displayed a courage which, during
the four days of the struggle, never flagged for a single instant.
Charamaule is a very tall man, possessed of vigorous features and
convincing eloquence; he voted with the Left, but sat with the Right.
In the Assembly he was the neighbor of Montalembert and of Riancey.
He sometimes had warm disputes with them, which we watched from afar
off, and which amused us.

Charamaule had come to the meeting at No. 70 dressed in a sort of blue
cloth military cloak, and armed, as we found out later on.

The situation was grave; sixteen Representatives arrested, all the
generals of the Assembly, and he who was more than a general, Charras.
All the journals suppressed, all the printing offices occupied by
soldiers. On the side of Bonaparte an army of 80,000 men which could be
doubled in a few hours; on our side nothing. The people deceived, and
moreover disarmed. The telegraph at their command. All the walls covered
with their placards, and at our disposal not a single printing case, not
one sheet of paper. No means of raising the protest, no means of
beginning the combat. The _coup d'état_ was clad with mail, the Republic
was naked; the _coup d'état_ had a speaking trumpet, the Republic wore a
gag.

What was to be done?

The raid against the Republic, against the Assembly, against Right,
against Law, against Progress, against Civilization, was commanded by
African generals. These heroes had just proved that they were cowards.
They had taken their precautions well. Fear alone can engender so much
skill. They had arrested all the men of war of the Assembly, and all the
men of action of the Left, Baune, Charles Lagrange, Miot, Valentin,
Nadaud, Cholat. Add to this that all the possible chiefs of the
barricades were in prison. The organizers of the ambuscade had carefully
left at liberty Jules Favre, Michel de Bourges, and myself, judging us
to be less men of action than of the Tribune; wishing to leave the Left
men capable of resistance, but incapable of victory, hoping to dishonor
us if we did not fight, and to shoot us if we did fight.

Nevertheless, no one hesitated. The deliberation began. Other
representatives arrived every minute, Edgar Quinet, Doutre, Pelletier,
Cassal, Bruckner, Baudin, Chauffour. The room was full, some were
seated, most were standing, in confusion, but without tumult.

I was the first to speak.

I said that the struggle ought to be begun at once. Blow for blow.

That it was my opinion that the hundred and fifty Representatives of the
Left should put on their scarves of office, should march in procession
through the streets and the boulevards as far as the Madeleine, and
crying "Vive la République! Vive la Constitution!" should appear before
the troops, and alone, calm and unarmed, should summon Might to obey
Right. If the soldiers yielded, they should go to the Assembly and make
an end of Louis Bonaparte. If the soldiers fired upon their legislators,
they should disperse throughout Paris, cry "To Arms," and resort to
barricades. Resistance should be begun constitutionally, and if that
failed, should be continued revolutionarily. There was no time to be
lost.

"High treason," said I, "should be seized red-handed, is a great mistake
to suffer such an outrage to be accepted by the hours as they elapse.
Each minute which passes is an accomplice, and endorses the crime.
Beware of that calamity called an 'Accomplished fact.' To arms!"

Many warmly supported this advice, among others Edgar Quinet, Pelletier,
and Doutre.

Michel de Bourges seriously
objected. My instinct was to begin at once, his advice was to wait and
see. According to him there was danger in hastening the catastrophe. The
_coup d'état_ was organized, and the People were not. They had been
taken unawares. We must not indulge in illusion. The masses could not
stir yet. Perfect calm reigned in the faubourgs; Surprise existed, yes;
Anger, no. The people of Paris, although so intelligent, did not
understand.

Michel added, "We are not in 1830. Charles X., in turning out the 221,
exposed himself to this blow, the re-election of the 221. We are not in
the same situation. The 221 were popular. The present Assembly is not: a
Chamber which has been insultingly dissolved is always sure to conquer,
if the People support it. Thus the People rose in 1830. To-day they
wait. They are dupes until they shall be victims." Michel de Bourges
concluded, "The People must be given time to understand, to grow angry,
to rise. As for us, Representative, we should be rash to precipitate the
situation. If we were to march immediately straight upon the troops, we
should only be shot to no purpose, and the glorious insurrection for
Right would thus be beforehand deprived of its natural leaders--the
Representatives of the People. We should decapitate the popular army.
Temporary delay, on the contrary, would be beneficial. Too much zeal
must be guarded against, self-restraint is necessary, to give way would
be to lose the battle before having begun it. Thus, for example, we must
not attend the meeting announced by the Right for noon, all those who
went there would be arrested. We must remain free, we must remain in
readiness, we must remain calm, and must act waiting the advent of the
People. Four days of this agitation without fighting would weary the
army." Michel, however, advised a beginning, but simply by placarding
Article 68 of the Constitution. But where should a printer be found?

Michel de Bourges spoke with an experience of revolutionary procedure
which was wanting in me. For many years past he had acquired a certain
practical knowledge of the masses. His council was wise. It must be
added that all the information which came to us seconded him, and
appeared conclusive against me. Paris was dejected.

The army of the _coup d'état_ invaded her peaceably. Even the placards
were not torn down. Nearly all the Representatives present, even the
most daring, agreed with Michel's counsel, to wait and see what would
happen. "At night," said they, "the agitation will begin," and they
concluded, like Michel de Bourges, that the people must be given time
to understand. There would be a risk of being alone in too hasty a
beginning. We should not carry the people with us in the first moment.
Let us leave the indignation to increase little by little in their
hearts. If it were begun prematurely our manifestation would miscarry.
These were the sentiments of all. For myself, while listening to them, I
felt shaken. Perhaps they were right. It would be a mistake to give the
signal for the combat in vain. What good is the lightning which is not
followed by the thunderbolt?

To raise a voice, to give vent to a cry, to find a printer, there was
the first question. But was there still a free Press?

The brave old ex-chief of the 6th Legion, Colonel Forestier, came in. He
took Michel de Bourges and myself aside.

"Listen," said he to us. "I come to you. I have been dismissed. I no
longer command my legion, but appoint me in the name of the Left,
Colonel of the 6th. Sign me an order and I will go at once and call them
to arms. In an hour the regiment will be on foot."

"Colonel," answered I, "I will do more than sign an order, I will
accompany you."

And I turned towards Charamaule, who had a carriage in waiting.

"Come with us," said I.

Forestier was sure of two majors of the 6th. We decided to drive to them
at once, while Michel and the other Representatives should await us at
Bonvalet's, in the Boulevard du Temple, near the Café Turc. There they
could consult together.

We started.

We traversed Paris, where people were already beginning to swarm in a
threatening manner. The boulevards were thronged with an uneasy crowd.
People walked to and fro, passers-by accosted each other without any
previous acquaintance, a noteworthy sign of public anxiety; and groups
talked in loud voices at the corners of the streets. The shops were
being shut.

"Come, this looks better," cried Charamaule.

He had been wandering about the town since the morning, and he had
noticed with sadness the apathy of the masses.

We found the two majors at home upon whom Colonel Forestier counted.
They were two rich linendrapers, who received us with some
embarrassment. The shopmen had gathered together at the windows, and
watched us pass by. It was mere curiosity.

In the meanwhile one of the two majors countermanded a journey which he
was going to undertake on that day, and promised us his co-operation.

"But," added he, "do not deceive yourselves, one can foresee that we
shall be cut to pieces. Few men will march out."

Colonel Forestier said to us, "Watrin, the present colonel of the 6th,
does not care for fighting; perhaps he will resign me the command
amicably. I will go and find him alone, so as to startle him the less,
and will join you at Bonvalet's."

Near the Porte St. Martin we left our carriage, and Charamaule and
myself proceeded along the boulevard on foot, in order to observe the
groups more closely, and more easily to judge the aspect of the crowd.

The recent levelling of the road had converted the boulevard of the
Porte St. Martin into a deep cutting, commanded by two embankments. On
the summits of these embankments were the footways, furnished with
railings. The carriages drove along the cutting, the foot passengers
walked along the footways.

Just as we reached the boulevard, a long column of infantry filed into
this ravine with drummers at their head. The thick waves of bayonets
filled the square of St. Martin, and lost themselves in the depths of
the Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle.

An enormous and compact crowd covered the two pavements of the Boulevard
St. Martin. Large numbers of workmen, in their blouses, were there,
leaning upon the railings.

At the moment when the head of the column entered the defile before the
Theatre of the Porte St. Martin a tremendous shout of "Vive la
République!" came forth from every mouth as though shouted by one man.
The soldiers continued to advance in silence, but it might have been
said that their pace slackened, and many of them regarded the crowd with
an air of indecision. What did this cry of "Vive la République!" mean?
Was it a token of applause? Was it a shout of defiance?

It seemed to me at that moment that the Republic raised its brow, and
that the _coup d'état_ hung its head.

Meanwhile Charamaule said to me, "You are recognized."

In fact, near the Château d'Eau the crowd surrounded me. Some young men
cried out, "Vive Victor Hugo!" One of them asked me, "Citizen Victor
Hugo, what ought we to do?"

I answered, "Tear down the seditious placards of the _coup d'état_, and
cry 'Vive la Constitution!'"

"And suppose they fire on us?" said a young workman.

"You will hasten to arms."

"Bravo!" shouted the crowd.

I added, "Louis Bonaparte is a rebel, he has steeped himself to-day in
every crime. We, Representatives of the People, declare him an outlaw,
but there is no need for our declaration, since he is an outlaw by the
mere fact of his treason. Citizens, you have two hands; take in one your
Right, and in the other your gun and fall upon Bonaparte."

"Bravo! Bravo!" again shouted the people.

A tradesman who was shutting up his shop said to me, "Don't speak so
loud, if they heard you talking like that, they would shoot you."

"Well, then," I replied, "you would parade my body, and my death would
be a boon if the justice of God could result from it."

All shouted "Long live Victor Hugo!"

"Shout 'Long live the Constitution,'" said I.

A great cry of "Vive la Constitution! Vive la République;" came forth
from every breast.

Enthusiasm, indignation, anger flashed in the faces of all. I thought
then, and I still think, that this, perhaps, was the supreme moment. I
was tempted to carry off all that crowd, and to begin the battle.

Charamaule restrained me. He whispered to me,--

"You will bring about a useless fusillade. Every one is unarmed. The
infantry is only two paces from us, and see, here comes the artillery."

I looked round; in truth several pieces of cannon emerged at a quick
trot from the Rue de Bondy, behind the Château d'Eau.

The advice to abstain, given by Charamaule, made a deep impression on
me. Coming from such a man, and one so dauntless, it was certainly not
to be distrusted. Besides, I felt myself bound by the deliberation which
had just taken place at the meeting in the Rue Blanche.

I shrank before the responsibility which I should have incurred. To have
taken advantage of such a moment might have been victory, it might also
have been a massacre. Was I right? Was I wrong?

The crowd thickened around us, and it became difficult to go forward. We
were anxious, however, to reach the _rendezvous_ at Bonvalet's.

Suddenly some one touched me on the arm. It was Léopold Duras, of the
_National_.

"Go no further," he whispered, "the Restaurant Bonvalet is surrounded.
Michel de Bourges has attempted to harangue the People, but the soldiers
came up. He barely succeeded in making his escape. Numerous
Representatives who came to the meeting have been arrested. Retrace your
steps. We are returning to the old _rendezvous_ in the Rue Blanche. I
have been looking for you to tell you this."

A cab was passing; Charamaule hailed the driver. We jumped in, followed
by the crowd, shouting, "Vive la République! Vive Victor Hugo!"

It appears that just at that moment a squadron of _sergents de ville_
arrived on the Boulevard to arrest me. The coachman drove off at full
speed. A quarter of an hour afterwards we reached the Rue Blanche.

Victor Hugo