Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 15


IN THE CHAMBER OF PEERS.

1846.

Yesterday, February 22, I went to the Chamber of
Peers. The weather was fine and very cold, in spite of the
noonday sun. In the Rue de Tournon I met a man in the
custody of two soldiers. The man was fair, pale, thin,
haggard; about thirty years old; he wore coarse linen
trousers; his bare and lacerated feet were visible in his
sabots, and blood-stained bandages round his ankles took
the place of stockings; his short blouse was soiled with
mud in the back, which indicated that he habitually slept
on the ground; his head was bare, his hair dishevelled.
Under his arm was a loaf. The people who surrounded
him said that he had stolen the loaf, and it was for this
that he had been arrested.

When they reached the gendarmerie barracks one of the
soldiers entered, and the man stayed at the door guarded by
the other soldier.

A carriage was standing at the door of the barracks. It
was decorated with a coat of arms; on the lanterns was a
ducal coronet; two grey horses were harnessed to it;
behind it were two lackeys. The windows were raised, but
the interior, upholstered in yellow damask, was visible.
The gaze of the man fixed upon this carriage, attracted mine.
In the carriage was a woman in a pink bonnet and costume
of black velvet, fresh, white, beautiful, dazzling, who was
laughing and playing with a charming child of sixteen
months, buried in ribbons, lace and furs.

This woman did not see the terrible man who was
gazing at her.

I became pensive.

This man was no longer a man for me; he was the
spectre of misery, the brusque, deformed, lugubrious
apparition in full daylight, in full sunlight, of a revolution
that is still plunged in darkness, but which is approaching.
In former times the poor jostled the rich, this spectre
encountered the rich man in all his glory; but they did not
look at each other, they passed on. This condition of
things could thus last for some time. The moment this
man perceives that this woman exists, while this woman
does not see that this man is there, the catastrophe is inevitable.


GENERAL FABVIER

Fabvier had fought valiantly in the wars of the Empire;
he fell out with the Restoration over the obscure affair
of Grenoble. He expatriated himself about 1816. It
was the period of the departure of the eagles. Lallemand
went to America, Allard and Vannova to India, Fabvier to
Greece.

The revolution of 1820 broke out. He took an heroic
part in it. He raised a corps of four thousand palikars, to
whom he was not a chief, but a god. He gave them
civilization and taught them barbarity. He was rough and
brave above all of them, and almost ferocious, but with that
grand, Homeric ferocity. One might have thought that he
had come from a tent of the camp of Achilles rather than
from the camp of Napoleon. He invited the English
Ambassador to dinner at his bivouac; the Ambassador found
him seated by a big fire at which a whole sheep was roasting;
when the animal was cooked and unskewered, Fabvier placed
the heel of his bare foot upon the neck of the smoking and
bleeding sheep and tore off a quarter, which he offered to
the Ambassador. In bad times nothing daunted him. He was
indifferent alike to cold, heat, fatigue and hunger; he never
spared himself. The palikars used to say: "When the soldier
eats cooked grass Fabvier eats it green."

I knew his history, but I had not seen him when, in
1846, General Fabvier was made a peer of France. One
day he had a speech to make, and the Chancellor
announced: "Baron Fabvier has the tribune." I expected
to hear a lion, I thought an old woman was speaking.

Yet his face was a truly masculine one, heroic and
formidable, that one might have fancied had been moulded
by the hand of a giant and which seemed to have
preserved a savage and terrible grimace. What was so strange
was the gentle, slow, grave, contained, caressing voice that
was allied to this magnificent ferocity. A child's voice
issued from this tiger's mouth.

General Fabvier delivered from the tribune speeches
learned by heart, graceful, flowery, full of allusions to the
woods and country--veritable idylls. In the tribune this
Ajax became a Némorin.

He spoke in low tones like a diplomat, he smiled like a
courtier. He was not averse to making himself agreeable
to princes. This is what the peerage had done for him. He
was only a hero after all.

August 22, 1846.

The Marquis de Boissy has assurance, coolness, self-possession,
a voice that is peculiar to himself, facility of speech,
wit occasionally, the quality of imperturbability, all the
accessories of a great orator. The only thing he lacks is
talent. He wearies the Chamber, wherefore the Ministers
do not consider themselves bound to answer him. He talks
as long as everybody keeps quiet. He fences with the
Chancellor as with his particular enemy.

Yesterday, after the session which Boissy had entirely
occupied with a very poor speech, M. Guizot said to me:

"It is an affliction. The Chamber of Deputies would
not stand him for ten minutes after the first two times.
The Chamber of Peers extends its high politeness to him,
and it does wrong. Boissy will not be suppressed until the
day the whole Chamber rises and walks out when he asks
permission to speak."

"You cannot think of such a thing," said I. "Only he
and the Chancellor would be left. It would be a duel
without seconds."

----------


It is the custom of the Chamber of Peers never to repeat
in its reply to the speech from the throne the titles that
the King gives to his children. It is also the custom never to
give the princes the title of Royal Highness when speaking
of them to the King. There is no Highness in presence of
his Majesty.

To-day, January 18, the address in reply to the speech
from the throne was debated. Occasionally there are
flashes of keen and happy wit in M. de Boissy's nonsense.
He remarked to-day: "I am not of those who are grateful
to the government for the blessings of providence."

As usual he quarrelled with the Chancellor. He was
making some more than usually roving excursion from the
straight path. The Chamber murmured and cried: "Confine
yourself to the question." The Chancellor rose:

"Monsieur the Marquis de Boissy," he said, "the Chamber
requests that you will confine yourself to the question
under discussion. It has saved me the trouble of asking
you to do so." ("Our colleague might as well have said
'spared me!'" I whispered to Lebrun.)

"I am delighted on your account, Monsieur the
Chancellor," replied M. de Boissy, and the Chamber laughed.

A few minutes later, however, the Chancellor took his
revenge. M. de Boissy had floundered into some quibble
about the rules. It was late. The Chamber was becoming
impatient.

"Had you not raised an unnecessary incident," observed
the Chancellor, "you would have finished your speech a
long time ago, to your own satisfaction and that of
everybody else."

Whereat everybody laughed.

"Don't laugh!" exclaimed the Duke de Mortemart.
"Laughter diminishes the prestige of a constituted body."

M. de Pontécoulant said: "M. de Boissy teases Monsieur
the Chancellor, Monsieur the Chancellor torments
M. de Boissy. There is a lack of dignity on both sides!"

During the session the Duke de Mortemart came to my
bench and we spoke about the Emperor. M. de Mortemart
went through all the great wars. He speaks nobly of him.
He was one of the Emperor's orderlies in the Campaign of
1812.

"It was during that campaign that I learned to know the
Emperor," he said. "I was near him night and day. I
saw him shave himself in the morning, sponge his chin,
pull on his boots, pinch his valet's ear, chat with the
grenadier mounting guard over his tent, laugh, gossip, make
trivial remarks, and amid all this issue orders, trace plans,
interrogate prisoners, decree, determine, decide, in a
sovereign manner, simply, unerringly, in a few minutes,
without missing anything, without losing a useful detail or a
second of necessary time. In this intimate and familiar life
of the bivouac flashes of his intellect were seen every
moment. You can believe me when I say that he belied the
proverb: 'No man is great in the eyes of his valet.'"

"Monsieur the Duke," said I, "that proverb is wrong.
Every great man is a great man in the eyes of his valet."

At this session the Duke d'Aumale, having attained his
twenty-fifth birthday, took his seat for the first time. The
Duke de Nemours and the Prince de Joinville were seated
near him in their usual places behind the ministerial bench.
They were not among those who laughed the least.

The Duke de Nemours, being the youngest member of
his committee, fulfilled the functions of secretary, as is
customary. M. de Montalembert wanted to spare him the
trouble. "No," said the prince, "it is my duty." He
took the urn and, as secretary, went the round of the table
to collect the votes.

----------


At the close of the session of January 21, 1847, at which
the Chamber of Peers discussed Cracow and kept silent
concerning the frontier of the Rhine, I descended the grand
staircase of the Chamber in company with M. de
Chastellux. M. Decazes stopped me and asked:

"Well, what have you been doing during the session?"

"I have been writing to Mme. Dorval." (I held the
letter in my hand.)

"What a fine disdain! Why did you not speak?"

"On account of the old proverb: 'He whose opinion is
not shared by anybody else should think, and say nothing.'

"Did your opinion, then, differ from that of the others?"

"Yes, from that of the whole Chamber."

"What did you want then?"

"The Rhine."

"Whew! the devil!"

"I should have protested and spoken without finding
any echo to my words; I preferred to say nothing."

"Ah! the Rhine! To have the Rhine! Yes, that is a
fine idea. Poetry! poetry!"

"Poetry that our fathers made with cannon and that we
shall make again with ideas!"

"My dear colleague," went on M. Decazes, "we must
wait. I, too, want the Rhine. Thirty years ago I said to
Louis XVIII.: 'Sire, I should be inconsolable if I thought
I should die without seeing France mistress of the left bank
of the Rhine. But before we can talk about that, before
we can think of it even, we must beget children.'"

"Well," I replied, "that was thirty years ago. We have
begotten the children."

----------


April 23, 1847.

The Chamber of Peers is discussing a pretty bad bill on
substitutions for army service. To-day the principal
article of the measure was before the House.

M. de Nemours was present. There are eighty
lieutenant-generals in the Chamber. The majority considered
the article to be a bad one. Under the eye of the Duke de
Nemours, who seemed to be counting them, all rose to vote
in favour of it.

The magistrates, the members of the Institute and the
ambassadors voted against it.

I remarked to President Franck-Carré, who was seated
next to me: "It is a struggle between civil courage and
military poltroonery."

The article was adopted.

June 22, 1847.

The Girardin* affair was before the Chamber of Peers
to-day. Acquittal. The vote was taken by means of balls,
white ones for condemnation, black ones for acquittal.
There were 199 votes cast, 65 white, 134 black. In placing
my black ball in the urn I remarked: "In blackening him
we whiten him."

* Emile de Girardin had been prosecuted for publishing an
article in a newspaper violently attacking the government.

I said to Mme. D--: "Why do not the Minister and
Girardin provoke a trial in the Assize Court?"

She replied: "Because Girardin does not feel himself
strong enough, and the Minister does not feel himself pure
enough."

MM. de Montalivet and Mole and the peers of the Château
voted, queerly enough, for Girardin against the
Government. M. Guizot learned the result in the Chamber of
Deputies and looked exceedingly wrath.

----------


June 28, 1847.

On arriving at the Chamber I found Franck-Carre
greatly scandalised.

In his hand was a prospectus for champagne signed by
the Count de Mareuil, and stamped with a peer's mantle
and a count's coronet with the de Mareuil arms. He had
shown it to the Chancellor, who had replied: "I can do
nothing!"

"I could do something, though, if a mere councillor
were to do a thing like that in my court," said
Franck-Carré to me. "I would call the Chambers together and
have him admonished in a disciplinary manner."

----------


1848.

Discussion by the committees of the Chamber of Peers
of the address in reply to the speech from the throne.

I was a member of the fourth committee. Among other
changes I demanded this. There was: "Our princes, your
well-beloved children, are doing in Africa the duties of
servants of the State." I proposed: "The princes, your
well-beloved children, are doing," etc., "their duty as
servants of the State." This fooling produced the effect
of a fierce opposition.

----------


January 14, 1848.

The Chamber of Peers prevented Alton-Shée from
pronouncing in the tribune even the name of the Convention.
There was a terrific knocking upon desks with paper-knives
and shouts of "Order! Order!" and he was compelled
almost by force to descend from the tribune.

I was on the point of shouting to them: "You are imitating
a session of the Convention, but only with wooden knives!"

I was restrained by the thought that this ~mot~, uttered
during their anger, would never be forgiven. For myself
I care little, but it might affect the calm truths which I
may have to tell them and get them to accept later on.

Victor Hugo