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Chapter 19

THE CRIME


But this government, this horrible, hypocritical, and stupid government,--this government which causes us to hesitate between a laugh and a sob, this gibbet-constitution on which all our liberties are hung, this great universal suffrage and this little universal suffrage, the first naming the President, and the other the legislators; the little one saying to the great one: "Monseigneur, accept these millions," and the great one saying to the little one: "Be assured of my consideration;" this Senate,--this Council of State--whence do they all come? Great Heaven! have we already reached the point that it is necessary to remind the reader of their source?

Whence comes this government? Look! It is still flowing, it is still smoking,--it is blood!

The dead are far away, the dead are dead.

Ah! it is horrible to think and to say, but is it possible that we no longer think of it?

Is it possible that, because we still eat and drink, because the coachmakers' trade is flourishing, because you, labourer, have work in the Bois de Boulogne, because you, mason, earn forty sous a day at the Louvre, because you, banker, have made money in the mining shares of Vienna, or in the obligations of Hope and Co., because the titles of nobility are restored, because one can now be called Monsieur le Comte or Madame la Duchesse, because religious processions traverse the streets on the Fête-Dieu, because people enjoy themselves, because they laugh, because the walls of Paris are covered with bills of fêtes and theatres,--is it possible that, because these things are so, men forgot that there are corpses lying beneath?

Is it possible, that, because one has been to the ball at the École Militaire, because one has returned home with dazzled eyes, aching head, torn dress and faded bouquet, because one has thrown one's self on one's couch, and fallen asleep, thinking of some handsome officer,--is it possible that one no longer remembers that under the turf, in an obscure grave, in a deep pit, in the inexorable gloom of death, there lies a motionless, ice-cold, terrible multitude,--a multitude of human beings already become a shapeless mass, devoured by worms, consumed by corruption, and beginning to blend with the earth around them--who existed, worked, thought, and loved, who had the right to live, and who were murdered?

Ah! if men recollect this no longer, let us recall it to the minds of those who forget! Awake, you who sleep! The dead are about to pass before your eyes.



EXTRACT FROM AN UNPUBLISHED BOOK ENTITLED

THE CRIME OF THE SECOND OF DECEMBER[1]

"THE DAY OF THE 4th OF DECEMBER

"THE COUP D'ÉTAT AT BAY

[1] By Victor Hugo. This book will shortly be published. It will be a complete narrative of the infamous performance of 1851. A large part of it is already written; the author is at this moment collecting materials for the rest.

He deems it apropos to enter somewhat at length into the details of this work, which he has imposed upon himself as a duty.

The author does himself the justice to believe that in writing this narrative,--the serious occupation of his exile,--he has had constantly present to his mind the exalted responsibility of the historian.

When it shall appear, this narrative will surely arouse numerous and violent outcries; the author expects no less; one does not with impunity cut to the quick of a contemporaneous crime, at the moment when that crime is omnipotent. However that may be, and however violent the outcries, more or less interested, and to the end that we may judge beforehand of its merit, the author feels called upon to explain in what way and with what scrupulous devotion to the truth this narrative will have been written, or, to speak more accurately, this report of the crime will have been drawn. This history of the 2nd of December will contain, in addition to the general facts, which everybody knows, a very large number of unknown facts which are brought to light for the first time therein. Several of these facts the author himself saw and touched and passed through; of them he can say: Quoeque ipse vidi et quorum pars fui. The members of the Republican Left, whose conduct was so fearless, saw these facts as he did, and he will not lack their testimony. For all the rest, the author has resorted to a veritable judicial investigation; he has constituted himself, so to speak, the examining magistrate of the performance; every actor in the drama, every combatant, every victim, every witness has deposed before him; for all the doubtful facts, he has brought the opposing declarations, and at need the witnesses, face to face. As a general rule historians deal with dead facts; they touch them in the tomb with their judicial wands, cause them to rise and question them. He has dealt with living facts.

All the details of the 2nd of December have in this wise passed before his eyes; he has recorded them all, weighed them all--not one has escaped him. History will be able to complete this narration, but not to weaken it. The magistrates were recreant to their trust, he has performed their functions. When direct, spoken testimony has failed him, he has sent to the spot what one might call genuine investigating commissions. He might cite many a fact for which he has prepared genuine interrogatories to which detailed replies were made. He repeats that he has subjected the 2nd of December to a long and severe examination. He has carried the torch so far as he was able. Thanks to this investigation he has in his possession nearly two hundred reports from which the book in question will emerge. There is not a single fact beneath which, when the book is published, the author will not be able to put a name. It will be readily understood that he will abstain from doing so, that he will even substitute sometimes for the real names, yes and for accurate indications of places, designations as obscure as possible, in view of the pending proscriptions. He has no desire to furnish M. Bonaparte with a supplemental list.

It is undoubtedly true that in this narrative of the 2nd of December, the author is not, any more than in this present book, "impartial," as people are accustomed to say of a history when they wish to praise the historian. Impartiality--a strange virtue, which Tacitus does not possess. Woe to him who should remain impartial in face of the bleeding wounds of liberty! In presence of the deed of December 2nd, 1851, the author feels that all human nature rises to arms within his breast; he does not conceal it from himself, and every one should perceive it when reading him. But in him the passion for truth equals the passion for right. The wrathful man does not lie. This history of the 2nd of December, therefore,--he declares as he is about to quote a few pages of it,--will have been written, we have just seen by what method, under conditions of the most absolute reality.

We deem it profitable to detach from it and to publish in this place a chapter which, we think, will make an impression on men's minds, in that it casts a new light on the "success" of M. Bonaparte. Thanks to the judicious reticences of the official historiographers of the 2nd of December, people are not sufficiently apprised how near the coup d'état came to being abortive, and they are altogether ignorant as to the means by which it was saved. We proceed to place this special detail before the reader's eyes.

[The author has concluded to reserve for this book alone the chapter in question which now forms an integral part thereof. He has therefore rewritten for the History of a Crime, the narrative of the events of December 4, with new facts, and from another point of view.]


Victor Hugo