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Chapter 14


Who are they that flock round the establishment? As we have said, the gorge rises at thought of them.

Ah! these rulers of the day,--we who are now proscribed remember them when they were representatives of the people, only twelve months ago, running hither and thither in the lobbies of the Assembly, their heads high, and with a show of independence, and the air and manner of men who belonged to themselves. What magnificence! and how proud they were! How they placed their hands on their hearts while they shouted "Vive la Republique!" And if some "Terrorist," some "Montagnard," or some "red republican," happened to allude from the tribune to the planned coup d'état and the projected Empire, how they vociferated at him: "You are a calumniator!" How they shrugged their shoulders at the word "Senate!"--"The Empire to-day" cried one, "would be blood and slime; you slander us, we shall never be implicated in such a matter." Another affirmed that he consented to be one of the President's ministers solely to devote himself to the defence of the Constitution and the laws; a third glorified the tribune as the palladium of the country; a fourth recalled the oath of Louis Bonaparte, exclaiming: "Do you doubt that he is an honest man?" These last--there were two of them--went the length of voting for and signing his deposition, on the 2nd of December, at the mayoralty of the Tenth Arrondissement; another sent a note on the 4th of December to the writer of these lines, to "felicitate him on having dictated the proclamation of the Left, by which Louis Bonaparte was outlawed." And now, behold them, Senators, Councillors of State, ministers, belaced, betagged, bedizened with gold! Base wretches! Before you embroider your sleeves, wash your hands!

M. Q.-B. paid a visit to M. O.-B. and said to him: "Can you conceive the assurance of this Bonaparte? he has had the presumption to offer me the place of Master of Requests!"--"You refused it?"--"Certainly."--The next day, being offered the place of Councillor of State, salary twenty-five thousand francs, our indignant Master of Requests becomes a grateful Councillor of State. M. Q.-B. accepts.

One class of men rallied en masse: the fools! They comprise the sound part of the Corps Législatif. It was to them that the head of the State addressed this little flattery:--"The first test of the Constitution, entirely of French origin, must have convinced you that we possess the qualities of a strong and a free government. We are in earnest, discussion is free, and the vote of taxation decisive. France possesses a government animated by faith and by love of the right, which is based upon the people, the source of all power; upon the army, the source of all strength; and upon religion, the source of all justice. Accept the assurance of my regard." These worthy dupes, we know them also; we have seen a goodly number of them on the benches of the majority in the Legislative Assembly. Their chiefs, skilful manipulators, had succeeded in terrifying them,--a certain method of leading them wherever they thought proper. These chiefs, unable any longer to employ usefully those old bugbears, the terms "Jacobin" and "sans-culotte," decidedly too hackneyed, had furbished up the word "demagogue." These ringleaders, trained to all sorts of schemes and manoeuvres, exploited successfully the word "Mountain," and agitated to good purpose that startling and glorious souvenir. With these few letters of the alphabet formed into syllables and suitably accented,--Demagogues, Montagnards, Partitioners, Communists, Red Republicans,--they made wildfires dance before the eyes of the simple. They had found the method of perverting the brains of their colleagues, who were so ingenuous as to swallow them whole, so to speak, with a sort of dictionary, wherein every expression made use of by the democratic writers and orators was readily translated. For humanity read ferocity; for universal good read subversion; for Republic read Terrorism; for Socialism read Pillage; for Fraternity, read Massacre; for the Gospel, read Death to the Rich. So that, when an orator of the Left exclaimed, for instance: "We rush for the suppression of war, and the abolition of the death penalty," a crowd of poor souls on the Right distinctly understood: "We wish to put everything to fire and sword;" and in a fury shook their fists at the orator. After such speeches, in which there had been a question only of liberty, of universal peace, of prosperity arising from labour, of concord, and of progress, the representatives of that category which we have designated at the head of this paragraph, were seen to rise, pale as death; they were not sure that they were not already guillotined, and went to look for their hats to see whether they still had heads.

These poor frightened creatures did not haggle over their adhesion to the 2nd of December. The expression, "Louis Napoleon has saved society," was invented especially for them.

And those eternal prefects, those eternal mayors, those eternal magistrates, those eternal sheriffs, those eternal complimenters of the rising sun, or of the lighted lamp, who, on the day after success, flock to the conqueror, to the triumpher, to the master, to his Majesty Napoleon the Great, to his Majesty Louis XVIII, to his Majesty Alexander I, to his Majesty Charles X, to his Majesty Louis Philippe, to Citizen Lamartine, to Citizen Cavaignac, to Monseigneur the Prince-President, kneeling, smiling, expansive, bearing upon salvers the keys of their towns, and on their faces the keys of their consciences!

But imbeciles ('tis an old story) have always made a part of all institutions, and are almost an institution of themselves; and as for the prefects and magistrates, as for these adorers of every new régime, insolent with, fortune and rapidity, they abound at all times. Let us do justice to the régime of December; it can boast not only of such partisans as these, but it has creatures and adherents peculiar to itself; it has produced an altogether new race of notabilities.

Nations are never conscious of all the riches they possess in the matter of knaves. Overturnings and subversions of this description are necessary to bring them to light. Then the nations wonder at what issues from the dust. It is splendid to contemplate. One whose shoes and clothes and reputation were of a sort to attract all the dogs of Europe in full cry, comes forth an ambassador. Another, who had a glimpse of Bicêtre and La Roquette,[1] awakes a general, and Grand Eagle of the Legion of Honour. Every adventurer assumes an official costume, furnishes himself with a good pillow stuffed with bank-notes, takes a sheet of white paper, and writes thereon: "End of my adventures."--"You know So-and-So?"--"Yes, is he at the galleys?"--"No, he's a minister."

[1] State prisons in Paris and Languedoc.

Victor Hugo