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Chapter 13

NOVELTIES IN RESPECT TO WHAT IS LAWFUL


The press enjoys the privilege of being censored, of being admonished, of being suspended, of being suppressed; it has even the privilege of being tried. Tried! By whom? By the courts. What courts? The police courts. And what about that excellent trial by jury? Progress: it is outstripped. The jury is far behind us, and we return to the government judges. "Repression is more rapid and more efficacious," as Maître Rouher says. And then 'tis so much better. Call the causes: correctional police, sixth chamber; first cause, one Roumage, swindler; second cause, one Lamennais, writer. This has a good effect, and accustoms the citizens to talk without distinction of writers and swindlers. That, certainly, is an advantage; but in a practical point of view, with reference to "repression," is the government quite sure of what it has done on that head? Is it quite sure that the sixth chamber will answer better than the excellent assize court of Paris, for instance, which had for president such abject creatures as Partarrieu-Lafosse, and for advocates at its bar, such base wretches as Suin, and such dull orators as Mongis? Can it reasonably expect that the police judges will be still more base and more contemptible than they? Will those judges, salaried as they are, work better than that jury-squad, who had the department prosecutor for corporal, and who pronounced their judgments and gesticulated their verdicts with the precision of a charge in double quick time, so that the prefect of police, Carlier, good-humouredly observed to a celebrated advocate, M. Desm----: "The jury! what a stupid institution! When not forced to it they never condemn, but when forced they never acquit." Let us weep for that worthy jury which was made by Carlier and unmade by Rouher.

This government feels that it is hideous. It wants no portrait; above all it wants no mirror. Like the osprey it takes refuge in darkness, and it would die if once seen. Now it wishes to endure. It does not propose to be talked about; it does not propose to be described. It has imposed silence on the press of France; we have seen in what manner. But to silence the press in France was only half-success. It must also be silenced in foreign countries. Two prosecutions were attempted in Belgium, against the Bulletin Français and against La Nation. They were acquitted by an honest Belgian jury. This was annoying. What was to be done? The Belgian journals were attacked through their pockets. "You have subscribers in France," they were told; "but if you 'discuss' us, you shall be kept out. If you wish to come in, make yourselves agreeable." An attempt was made to frighten the English journals. "If you 'discuss' us"--decidedly they do not wish to be discussed--"we shall drive your correspondents out of France." The English press roared with laughter. But this is not all. There are French writers outside of France: they are proscribed, that is to say they are free. Suppose those fellows should speak? Suppose those demagogues should write? They are very capable of doing both; and we must prevent them. But how are we to do it? To gag people at a distance is not so easy a matter: M. Bonaparte's arm is not long enough for that. Let us try, however; we will prosecute them in the countries where they have taken refuge. Very good: the juries of free countries will understand that these exiles represent justice, and that the Bonapartist government personifies iniquity. These juries will follow the example of the Belgian jury and acquit. The friendly governments will then be solicited to expel these refugees, to banish these exiles. Very good: the exiles will go elsewhere; they will always find some corner of the earth open to them where they can speak. How then are they to be got at? Rouher and Baroche clubbed their wits together, and between them they hit upon this expedient: to patch up a law dealing with crimes committed by Frenchmen in foreign countries, and to slip into it "crimes of the press." The Council of State sanctioned this, and the Corps Législatif did not oppose it, and it is now the law of the land. If we speak outside of France, we shall be condemned for the offence in France; imprisonment (in future, if caught), fines and confiscations. Again, very good. The book I am now writing will, therefore, be tried in France, and its author duly convicted; this I expect, and I confine myself to apprising all those quidams calling themselves magistrates, who, in black and red gown, shall concoct the thing that, sentence to any fine whatever being well and duly pronounced against me, nothing will equal my disdain for the judgment, but my contempt for the judges. This is my defence.


Victor Hugo