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Chapter 27

SKETCHES MADE IN THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY.

ODILON BARROT.

Odilon Barrot ascends the tribune step by step and
slowly; he is solemn before being eloquent. Then he
places his right hand on the table of the tribune, throwing
his left hand behind his back, and thus shows himself
sideways to the Assembly in the attitude of an athlete. He is
always in black, well brushed and well buttoned up.

His delivery, which is slow at first, gradually becomes
animated, as do his thoughts. But in becoming animated
his speech becomes hoarse and his thoughts cloudy. Hence
a certain hesitation among his hearers, some being unable
to catch what he says, the others not understanding. All
at once from the cloud darts a flash of lightning and one
is dazzled. The difference between men of this kind and
Mirabeau is that the former have flashes of lightning,
Mirabeau alone has thunder.

MONSIEUR THIERS.

M. Thiers wants to treat men, ideas and revolutionary
events with parliamentary routine. He plays his old game
of constitutional tricks in face of abysms and the dreadful
upheavals of the chimerical and unexpected. He does not
realise that everything has been transformed; he finds a
resemblance between our own times and the time when he
governed, and starts out from this. This resemblance exists
in point of fact, but there is in it a something that is
colossal and monstrous. M. Thiers has no suspicion of this, and
pursues the even tenour of his way. All his life he has
been stroking cats, and coaxing them with all sorts of
cajolling processes and feline ways. To-day he is trying to play
the same game, and does not see that the animals have
grown beyond all measure and that it is wild beasts that
he is keeping about him. A strange sight it is to see this
little man trying to stroke the roaring muzzle of a
revolution with his little hand.

When M. Thiers is interrupted he gets excited, folds and
unfolds his arms, then raises his hands to his mouth, his
nose, his spectacles, shrugs his shoulders, and ends by
clasping the back of his head convulsively with both hands.

I have always entertained towards this celebrated statesman,
this eminent orator, this mediocre writer, this narrow-minded
man, an indefinable sentiment of admiration, aversion
and disdain.


DUFAURE.

M. Dufaure is a barrister of Saintes, and was the leading
lawyer in his town about 1833. This led him to aspire to
legislative honours. M. Dufaure arrived in the Chamber
with a provincial and cold-in-the-nose accent that was very
queer. But he possessed a mind so clear that occasionally
it was almost luminous, and so accurate that occasionally it
was decisive.

With that his speech was deliberate and cold, but sure,
solid, and calmly pushed difficulties before it.

M. Dufaure succeeded. He was a deputy, then a minister. He
is not a sage. He is a grave and honest man who
has held power without greatness but with probity, and who
speaks from the tribune without brilliancy but with authority.

His person resembles his talent. In appearance he is
dignified, simple and sober. He comes to the Chamber
buttoned up in his dark grey frock-coat, and wearing a
black cravat, and a shirt collar that reaches to his ears.
He has a big nose, thick lips, heavy eyebrows, an intelligent
and severe eye, and grey, ill-combed hair.


CHANGARNIER.

Changarnier looks like an old academician, just as Soult
looks like an old archbishop.

Changarnier is sixty-four or sixty-five years old, and tall
and thin. He has a gentle voice, a graceful and formal air,
a chestnut wig like M. Pasquier's, and a lady-killing smile
like M. Brifaut's.

With that he is a curt, bold, expeditious man, resolute,
but cunning and reserved.

At the Chamber he occupies the extreme end of the
fourth bench of the last section on the left, exactly above
M. Ledru-Rollin.

He usually sits with folded arms. The bench on which
Ledru-Rollin and Lamennais sit is perhaps the most habitually
irritated of the Left. While the Assembly shouts,
murmurs, yells, roars, and rages, Changarnier yawns.


LAGRANGE.

Lagrange, it is said, fired the pistol in the Boulevard des
Capucines, fatal spark that heated the passions of the people
and caused the conflagration of February. He is styled:
Political prisoner and Representative of the people.

Lagrange has a grey moustache, a grey beard and long
grey hair. He is overflowing with soured generosity, charitable
violence and a sort of chivalrous demagogy; there is
a love in his heart with which he stirs up hatred; he is
tall, thin, young looking at a distance, old when seen
nearer, wrinkled, bewildered, hoarse, flurried, wan, has a
wild look in his eyes and gesticulates; he is the Don
Quixote of the Mountain. He, also, tilts at windmills; that
is to say, at credit, order, peace, commerce, industry,--all
the machinery that turns out bread. With this, a lack of
ideas; continual jumps from justice to insanity and from
cordiality to threats. He proclaims, acclaims, reclaims and
declaims. He is one of those men who are never taken
seriously, but who sometimes have to be taken tragically.


PRUDHON.

Prudhon was born in 1803. He has thin fair hair that
is ruffled and ill-combed, with a curl on his fine high brow.
He wears spectacles. His gaze is at once troubled,
penetrating and steady. There is something of the house-dog
in his almost flat nose and of the monkey in his chin-beard.
His mouth, the nether lip of which is thick, has an habitual
expression of ill-humour. He has a Franc-Comtois accent, he
utters the syllables in the middle of words rapidly
and drawls the final syllables; he puts a circumflex accent
on every "a," and like Charles Nodier, pronounces: "~honorable,
remarquable~." He speaks badly and writes well. In
the tribune his gesture consists of little feverish pats
upon his manuscript with the palm of his hand. Sometimes
he becomes irritated, and froths; but it is cold slaver. The
principal characteristic of his countenance and physiognomy
is mingled embarrassment and assurance.

I write this while he is in the tribune.

Anthony Thouret met Prudhon.

"Things are going badly," said Prudhon.

"To what cause do you attribute our embarrassments?"
queried Anthony Thouret.

"The Socialists are at the bottom of the trouble, of
course.

"What! the Socialists? But are you not a Socialist
yourself?"

"I a Socialist! Well, I never!" ejaculated Prudhon.

"Well, what in the name of goodness, are you, then?"

"I am a financier."


BLANQUI.

Blanqui got so that ho no longer wore a shirt. For
twelve years he had worn the same clothes--his prison
clothes--rags, which he displayed with sombre pride at his
club. He renewed only his boots and his gloves, which
were always black.

At Vincennes during his eight months of captivity for
the affair of the 15th of May, he lived only upon bread and
raw potatoes, refusing all other food. His mother alone
occasionally succeeded in inducing him to take a little
beef-tea.

With this, frequent ablutions, cleanliness mingled with
cynicism, small hands and feet, never a shirt, gloves always.

There was in this man an aristocrat crushed and
trampled upon by a demagogue.

Great ability, no hypocrisy; the same in private as in
public. Harsh, stern, serious, never laughing, receiving
respect with irony, admiration with sarcasm, love with
disdain, and inspiring extraordinary devotion.

There was in Blanqui nothing of the people, everything
of the populace.

With this, a man of letters, almost erudite. At certain
moments he was no longer a man, but a sort of lugubrious
apparition in which all degrees of hatred born of all
degrees of misery seemed to be incarnated.


LAMARTINE.

February 23, 1850.

During the session Lamartine came and sat beside me
in the place usually occupied by M. Arbey. While talking,
he interjected in an undertone sarcastic remarks about the
orators in the tribune.

Thiers spoke. "Little scamp," murmured Lamartine.

Then Cavaignac made his appearance. "What do you
think about him?" said Lamartine. "For my part, these
are my sentiments: He is fortunate, he is brave, he is loyal,
he is voluble--and he is stupid."

Cavaignac was followed by Emmanuel Arago. The Assembly was
stormy. "This man," commented Lamartine,
"has arms too small for the affairs he undertakes. He is
given to joining in mêlées and does not know how to get
out of them again. The tempest tempts him, and kills him."

A moment later Jules Favre ascended the tribune. "I
do not know how they can see a serpent in this man," said
Lamartine. "He is a provincial academician."

Laughing the while, he took a sheet of paper from my
drawer, asked me for a pen, asked Savatier-Laroche for a
pinch of snuff, and wrote a few lines. This done he
mounted the tribune and addressed grave and haughty
words to M. Thiers, who had been attacking the revolution
of February. Then he returned to our bench, shook hands
with me while the Left applauded and the Right waxed
indignant, and calmly emptied the snuff in
Savatier-Laroche's snuffbox into his own.


BOULAY DE LA MEURTHE.

M. Boulay de la Meurthe was a stout, kindly man, bald,
pot-bellied, short, enormous, with a short nose and a not very
long wit. He was a friend of Hard, whom he called ~mon
cher~, and of Jerome Bonaparte, whom he addressed as
"your Majesty."

The Assembly, on January 20, made him Vice-President
of the Republic.

It was somewhat sudden, and unexpected by everybody
except himself. This latter fact was evident from the long
speech learned by heart that he delivered after being sworn
in. At its conclusion the Assembly applauded, then a roar
of laughter succeeded the applause. Everybody laughed,
including himself; the Assembly out of irony, he in good
faith.

Odilon Barrot, who since the previous evening had been
keenly regretting that he did not allow himself to be made
Vice-President, contemplated the scene with a shrug of the
shoulders and a bitter smile.

The Assembly followed Boulay de la Meurthe, congratulated
and gratified, with its eyes, and in every look could
be read this: "Well, I never! He takes himself seriously!"

When he was taking the oath, in a voice of thunder
which made everybody smile, Boulay de la Meurthe
looked as if he were dazzled by the Republic, and the
Assembly did not look as if it were dazzled by Boulay de
la Meurthe.


DUPIN.

Dupin has a style of wit that is peculiar to himself. It
is Gaulish, tinged with the wit of a limb of the law and
with jovial grossness. When the vote upon the bill against
universal suffrage was about to be taken some member of
the majority, whose name I have forgotten, went to him
and said:

"You are our president, and moreover a great legist.
You know more about it than I do. Enlighten me, I am
undecided. Is it true that the bill violates the
Constitution?"

Dupin appeared to think for a moment and then replied:

"No, it doesn't violate it, but it lifts its clothes up as
high as possible!"

This reminds me of what he said to me the day I spoke
upon the Education Bill. Baudin had permitted me to
take his turn to speak, and I went up to the presidential
chair to notify Dupin.

"Ah! you are going to speak! So much the better!"
said he; and pointing to M. Barthélemy Saint Hilaire, who
was then occupying the tribune and delivering a long and
minute technical speech against the measure, added:

"He is rendering you a service. He is doing the preparatory
work. He is turning the bill's trousers down. This
done you will be able to at once--"

He completed the phrase with the expressive gesture
which consists of tapping the back of the fingers of the left
hand with the fingers of the right hand.

Victor Hugo