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 20



The insurrection of June presented peculiar features
from the outset.* It suddenly manifested itself to terrified
society in monstrous and unknown forms.

* At the end of June, four months after the proclamation of the
Republic, regular work had come to a standstill and the useless
workshops known as the "national workshops" had been abolished by the
National Assembly. Then the widespread distress prevailing caused the
outbreak of one of the most formidable insurrections recorded in history.
The power at that time was in the hands of an Executive Committee of
five members, Lamartine, Arago, Ledru Rollin, Garnier-Pages and
Marie. General Cavaignac was Minister of War.

The first barricade was erected in the morning of Friday,
the 23rd, at the Porte Saint Denis. It was attacked the
same day. The National Guard marched resolutely against
it. The attacking force was made up of battalions of the
First and Second Legions, which arrived by way of the
boulevards. When the assailants got within range a
formidable volley was fired from the barricade, and littered
the ground with National Guards. The National Guard,
more irritated than intimidated, charged the barricade.

At this juncture a woman appeared upon its crest, a
woman young, handsome, dishevelled, terrible. This
woman, who was a prostitute, pulled up her clothes to her
waist and screamed to the guards in that frightful language
of the lupanar that one is always compelled to translate:

"Cowards! fire, if you dare, at the belly of a woman!"
Here the affair became appalling. The National Guard
did not hesitate. A volley brought the wretched creature
down, and with a piercing shriek she toppled off the
barricade. A silence of horror fell alike upon besiegers
and besieged.

Suddenly another woman appeared. This one was even
younger and more beautiful; she was almost a child, being
barely seventeen years of age. Oh! the pity of it! She,
too, was a street-walker. Like the other she lifted her skirt,
disclosed her abdomen, and screamed: "Fire, brigands!"
They fired, and riddled with bullets she fell upon the body
of her sister in vice.

It was thus that the war commenced.

Nothing could be more chilling and more sombre. It is
a hideous thing this heroism of abjection in which bursts
forth all that weakness has of strength; this civilization
attacked by cynicism and defending itself by barbarity. On
one side the despair of the people, on the other the despair
of society.

On Saturday the 24th, at 4 o'clock in the morning, I, as
a Representative of the people, was at the barricade in the
Place Baudoyer that was defended by the troops.

The barricade was a low one. Another, narrow and high,
protected it in the street. The sun shone upon and
brightened the chimney-tops. The tortuous Rue Saint Antoine
wound before us in sinister solitude.

The soldiers were lying upon the barricade, which was
little more than three feet high. Their rifles were stacked
between the projecting paving-stones as though in a rack.
Now and then bullets whistled overhead and struck the
walls of the houses around us, bringing down a shower
of stone and plaster. Occasionally a blouse, sometimes a
cap-covered head, appeared at the corner of a street. The
soldiers promptly fired at it. When they hit their mark
they applauded "Good! Well aimed! Capital!"

They laughed and chatted gaily. At intervals there
was a rattle and roar, and a hail of bullets rained upon the
barricade from roofs and windows. A very tall captain
with a grey moustache stood erect at the centre of the
barrier, above which half his body towered. The bullets
pattered about him as about a target. He was impassible
and serene and spoke to his men in this wise:

"There, children, they are firing. Lie down. Look out,
Laripaud, you are showing your head. Reload!"

All at once a woman turned the corner of a street. She
came leisurely towards the barricade. The soldiers swore
and shouted to her to get out of the way:

"Ah! the strumpet! Will you get out of that you
w--! Shake a leg, damn you! She's coming to
reconnoitre. She's a spy! Bring her down. Down with
the moucharde!"

The captain restrained them:

"Don't shoot, it's a woman!"

After advancing about twenty paces the woman, who
really did seem to be observing us, entered a low door which
closed behind her.

This one was saved.

At 11 o'clock I returned from the barrier in the Place
Baudoyer and took my usual place in the Assembly. A
Representative whom I did not know, but who I have since
learned was M. Belley, engineer, residing in the Rue des
Tournelles, came and sat beside me and said:

"Monsieur Victor Hugo, the Place Royale has been
burned. They set fire to your house. The insurgents
entered by the little door in the Cul-de-sac Guéménée."

"And my family?" I inquired.

"They are safe."

"How do you know?"

"I have just come from there. Not being known I was
able to get over the barricades and make my way here.
Your family first took refuge in the Mairie. I was there,
too. Seeing that the danger was over I advised Mme. Victor
Hugo to seek some other asylum. She found shelter with
her children in the home of a chimney-sweep named Martignon
who lives near your house, under the arcades."

I knew that worthy Martignon family. This reassured me.

"And how about the riot?" I asked.

"It is a revolution," replied M. Belley. "The insurgents
are in control of Paris at this moment."

I left M. Belley and hurriedly traversed the few rooms
that separated the hall in which we held our sessions and
the office occupied by the Executive Committee.

It was a small salon belonging to the presidency, and was
reached through two rooms that were smaller still. In these
ante-chambers was a buzzing crowd of distracted officers
and National Guards. They made no attempt to prevent
any one from entering.

I opened the door of the Executive Committee's office.
Ledru-Rollin, very red, was half seated on the table. M.
Gamier-Pages, very pale, and half reclining in an armchair,
formed an antithesis to him. The contrast was complete:
Garnier-Pagès thin and bushy-haired, Ledru-Rollin
stout and close-cropped. Two or three colonels, among
them Representative Charras, were conversing in a corner.
I only recall Arago vaguely. I do not remember whether
M. Marie was there. The sun was shining brightly.

Lamartine, standing in a window recess on the left, was
talking to a general in full uniform, whom I saw for the
first and last time, and who was Négrier. Négrier was
killed that same evening in front of a barricade.

I hurried to Lamartine, who advanced to meet me. He
was wan and agitated, his beard was long, his clothes were

He held out his hand: "Ah! good morning, Hugo!"

Here is the dialogue that we engaged in, every word of
which is still fresh in my memory:

"What is the situation, Lamartine?"

"We are done for!"

"What do you mean by that?"

"I mean that in a quarter of an hour from now the Assembly
will be invaded."

(Even at that moment a column of insurgents was coming
down the Rue de Lille. A timely charge of cavalry
dispersed it.)

"Nonsense! What about the troops?"

"There are no troops!"

"But you said on Wednesday, and yesterday repeated,
that you had sixty thousand men at your disposal."

"So I thought."

"Well, but you musn't give up like this. It is not only
you who are at stake, but the Assembly, and not only the
Assembly, but France, and not only France, but the whole
of civilization. Why did you not issue orders yesterday to
have the garrisons of the towns for forty leagues round
brought to Paris? That would have given you thirty
thousand men at once."

"We gave the orders--"


"The troops have not come!"

Lamartine took my hand and said;

"I am not Minister of War!"

At this moment a few representatives entered noisily.
The Assembly had just voted a state of siege. They told
Ledru-Rollin and Garnier-Pages so in a few words.

Lamartine half turned towards them and said in an

"A state of siege! A state of siege! Well, declare it
if you think it is necessary. I have nothing to say!"

He dropped into a chair, repeating:

"I have nothing to say, neither yes nor no. Do what
you like!"

General Négrier came up to me.

"Monsieur Victor Hugo," he said, "I have come to
reassure you; I have received news from the Place

"Well, general?"

"Your family are safe."

"Thanks! Yes, I have just been so informed."

"But your house has been burnt down."

"What does that matter?" said I.

Négrier warmly pressed my arm:

"I understand you. Let us think only of one thing.
Let us save the country!"

As I was withdrawing Lamartine quitted a group and
came to me.

"Adieu," he said. "But do not forget this: do not
judge me too hastily; I am not the Minister of War."

The day before, as the riot was spreading, Cavaignac,
after a few measures had been taken, said to Lamartine:

"That's enough for to-day."

It was 5 o'clock.

"What!" exclaimed Lamartine. "Why, we have still
four hours of daylight before us! And the riot will profit
by them while we are losing them!"

He could get nothing from Cavaignac except:

"That's enough for to-day!"

On the 24th, about 3 o'clock, at the most critical moment,
a Representative of the people, wearing his sail
across his shoulder, arrived at the Mairie of the Second
Arrondissement, in the Rue Chauchat, behind the Opera.
He was recognised. He was Lagrange.

The National Guards surrounded him. In a twinkling
the group became menacing:

"It is Lagrange! the man of the pistol shot!* What
are you doing here? You are a coward! Get behind the
barricades. That is your place--your friends are
there--and not with us! They will proclaim you their chief; go
on! They at any rate are brave! They are giving their
blood for your follies; and you, you are afraid! You have
a dirty duty to do, but at least do it! Get out of here!

* It was popularly but erroneously believed that Lagrange fired the
shot that led to the massacre in the Boulevard des Capucines on
February 23.

Lagrange endeavoured to speak. His voice was drowned
by hooting.

This is how these madmen received the honest man who
after fighting for the people wanted to risk his life for

June 25.

The insurgents were firing throughout the whole length
of the Boulevard Beaumarchais from the tops of the new
houses. Several had ambushed themselves in the big house
in course of construction opposite the Galiote. At the
windows they had stuck dummies,--bundles of straw with
blouses and caps on them.

I distinctly saw a man who had entrenched himself behind
a barricade of bricks in a corner of the balcony on the
fourth floor of the house which faces the Rue du
Pont-aux-Choux. The man took careful aim and killed a good many

It was 3 o'clock. The troops and mobiles fringed the
roofs of the Boulevard du Temple and returned the fire
of the insurgents. A cannon had just been drawn up in
front of the Gaité to demolish the house of the Galiote and
sweep the whole boulevard.

I thought I ought to make an effort to put a stop to the
bloodshed, if possible, and advanced to the corner of the
Rue d'Angoulême. When I reached the little turret near
there I was greeted with a fusillade. The bullets pattered
upon the turret behind me, and ploughed up the playbills
with which it was covered. I detached a strip of paper as
a memento. The bill to which it belonged announced for
that very Sunday a fête at the Château des Flours, "with
a thousand lanterns."

* * * * *

For four months we have been living in a furnace.
What consoles me is that the statue of the future will issue
from it. It required such a brazier to melt such a bronze.

Victor Hugo