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Chapter 20

"The resistance had assumed unexpected proportions.

"The combat had become menacing; it was no longer a combat, but a battle, which was engaged on all sides. At the Élysée and the different departments, people began to turn pale; they had wished for barricades, and they had got them.

"All the centre of Paris was becoming covered with improvised redoubts; the quarters thus barricaded formed a sort of immense trapezium, between the Halles and Rue Rambuteau on one side, and the boulevards on the other; bounded on the east by Rue du Temple, and on the west by Rue Montmartre. This vast network of streets, cut in all directions by redoubts and entrenchments, assumed every hour a more terrible aspect, and was becoming a kind of fortress. The combatants at the barricades pushed their advance guards as far as the quays. Outside the trapezium, which we have described, the barricades extended, as we have said, as far as Faubourg Saint-Martin, and to the neighbourhood of the canal. The quarter of the schools, whither the Committee of Resistance had despatched Representative de Flotte, had risen even more generally than on the evening before; the suburbs were taking fire; the drums were beating to arms at the Batignolles; Madier de Montjau was arousing Belleville; three enormous barricades were in course of construction at the Chapelle-Saint-Denis. In the business streets the citizens were delivering up their muskets, and the women were making lint. 'All is going well! Paris is up!' exclaimed B----, to us, as he entered the Committee of Resistance with a face radiant with joy.[2] Fresh intelligence reached us every instant; all the permanent committees of the different quarters placed themselves in communication with us. The members of the committee deliberated and issued orders and instructions for the combat in every direction. Victory seemed certain. There was a moment of enthusiasm and joy when all these men, still standing between life and death, embraced one another.--'Now,' exclaimed Jules Favre, 'let but a regiment come over, or a legion, and Louis Bonaparte is lost!'--'To-morrow, the Republic will be at the Hotel de Ville!' said Michel de Bourges. All was ferment, all was excitement; in the most peaceful quarters the proclamations were torn down, and the ordinances defaced. On Rue Beaubourg, the women cried from the windows to the men employed in erecting a barricade: 'Courage!' The agitation reached even to Faubourg Saint-Germain. At the headquarters on Rue de Jerusalem, which is the centre of the great cobweb that the police spreads over Paris, everyone trembled; their anxiety was immense, for they saw the possibility that the Republic would triumph. In the courtyards, in the bureaus, and in the passages, the clerks and sergents-de-ville began to talk with affectionate regret of Caussidiere.

[2] A Committee of Resistance, charged with the task of centralizing the action and directing the combat, had been named on the evening of the 2nd of December, by the members of the Left assembled at the house of Representative Lafon, Quai Jemmappes, No. 2. This committee, which was obliged to change its retreat twenty-seven times in four days, and which, so to say, sat night and day, and did not cease to act for a single instant during the various crises of the coup d'état, was composed of Representatives Carnot, de Flotte, Jules Favre, Madier de Montjau, Michel de Bourges, Schoelcher, and Victor Hugo.

"If one can believe what has oozed out from this den, the prefect, Maupas, who had been so warm in the cause the evening before, and was put forward so odiously, began to back out and lose courage. It seemed as if he were listening with terror to the noise, as of a rising flood, made by the insurrection--by the holy and legitimate insurrection of the right. He stammered and hesitated while the word of command died away upon his tongue. 'That poor young man has the colic,' said the former prefect, Carlier, on leaving him. In this state of consternation, Maupas clung to Morny. The electric telegraph maintained a perpetual dialogue from the Prefecture of Police to the Department of the Interior, and from the Department of the Interior to the Prefecture of Police. All the most alarming news, all the signs of panic and confusion were passed on, one after another, from the prefect to the minister. Morny, who was less frightened, and who is, at least, a man of spirit, received all these shocks in his cabinet It is reported that at the first communication he said: 'Maupas is ill;' and to the question: 'What is to be done,' replied by the telegraph: 'Go to bed!' To the second question he still replied: 'Go to bed!' and, as the third, losing all patience he answered: 'Go to bed and be d----d!'

"The zeal of the government agents was fast giving way and beginning to change sides. A courageous man, who had been despatched by the Committee of Resistance to rouse Faubourg Saint-Marceau, was arrested on Rue des Fossés-Saint-Victor, with his pockets filled with the proclamations and decrees of the Left. He was immediately marched off in the direction of the Prefecture of Police. He expected to be shot. As the escort which was conducting him passed the Morgue on Quai-Saint-Michel, musket-shots were heard in the Cité. The sergent-de-ville at the head of the escort said to the soldiers: 'Go back to your guard-house; I will take care of the prisoner,' As soon as the soldiers were gone, he cut the cords with which the prisoner's hands were fastened, and said to him: 'Go, I spare your life; don't forget that it was I who set you at liberty. Look at me well, so that you may know me again.'

"The principal military accomplices held a council. The question was discussed whether it was not necessary for Louis Bonaparte to quit Faubourg Saint-Honoré immediately, and remove either to the Invalides or to the Palais du Luxembourg, two strategic points more easy to defend against a coup de main than the Élysée. Some preferred the Invalides, others the Luxembourg; the subject gave rise to an altercation between two generals.

"It was at this moment that the ex-King of Westphalia, Jérôme Bonaparte, seeing that the coup d'état was tottering to its fall, and having some care for the morrow, wrote his nephew the following significant letter:--

"My dear Nephew,

The blood of Frenchmen has been spilt; stop its effusion by a serious appeal to the people. Your sentiments are not rightly understood. Your second proclamation, in which you speak of the plebiscitum, is ill received by the people, who do not look upon it as re-establishing the right of suffrage. Liberty possesses no guarantee if there is not an Assembly to contribute to the constitution of the Republic. The army has the upper hand. Now is the moment to complete the material victory by a moral victory, and that which a government cannot do when beaten, it ought to do when victorious. After destroying the old parties, bring about the restoration of the people; proclaim that universal suffrage, sincere, and acting in harmony with the greatest liberty, shall name the President and the Constituent Assembly to save and restore the Republic.

"It is in the name of my brother's memory, and sharing his horror for civil war, that I now write to you; trust my long experience, and remember that France, Europe, and posterity will be called on to judge your conduct.

"Your affectionate uncle,


       *      *      *      *      *      *      *

"On Place de la Madeleine, the two representatives, Fabvier and Crestin, met and accosted each other. General Fabvier directed his colleague's attention to four pieces of cannon which, turning in an opposite direction to that they had before been pursuing, left the Boulevard and galloped off towards the Élysée. 'Can it be that the Élysée is already on the defensive?' said the general. Crestin, pointing to the façade of the palate of the Assembly, on the other side of Place de la Révolution, replied: 'General, to-morrow we shall be there.'--From, some garrets that look on the stables of the Élysée, three travelling carriages were observed from an early hour in the morning, loaded, with the horses put to, and the postilions in their saddles ready to start.

"The impulsion was really given, the movement of rage and hatred was becoming universal, and the coup d'état seemed to be lost; one shock more and Louis Bonaparte would fall. Let the day but end as it had begun, and all was over. The coup d'état was approaching a state of despair. The hour for supreme resolutions was come. What did he intend doing? It was necessary that he should strike a great blow, an unexpected blow, a terrible blow. He was reduced to this alternative: to perish, or to save himself by a frightful expedient.

"Louis Bonaparte had not quitted the Élysée. He was in a cabinet on the ground floor, near the splendid gilt saloon, where, as a child, in 1815, he had been present at the second abdication of Napoleon. He was there alone; orders had been given that no one should be allowed to have access to him. From time to time the door was opened a little way, and the grey head of General Roguet, his aide-de-camp, appeared. The general was the only person who was allowed to open this door and enter the room. The general brought news, more and more alarming, and frequently terminated what he had to say with the words: 'The thing doesn't work;' or 'Things are going badly.' When he had finished, Louis Bonaparte, who was seated with his elbows on a table and his feet on the fire-dogs, before a roaring fire, turned his head half round on the back of his chair, and, in a most phlegmatic tone, and without apparent emotion, invariably answered in the following words: 'Let them execute my orders.' The last time that General Roguet entered the room in this manner with bad news, it was nearly one o'clock--he himself has related these details, to the honour of his master's calmness. He told the Prince that the barricades in the centre of the town still held out, and were increasing in number; that on the boulevards the cries of 'Down with the dictator' (he did not dare say 'Down with Soulouque'), and hisses everywhere hailed the troops as they passed; that before Galerie Jouffroy a major had been pursued by the crowd, and that at the corner of the Café Cardinal a captain of the staff had been torn from his horse. Louis Bonaparte half rose from his chair, and gazing fixedly at the general, calmly said to him: 'Very well! let Saint-Arnaud be told to execute my orders.'

"What were these orders?

"We shall see.

"Here we pause to reflect, and the narrator lays down his pen with a species of hesitation and distress of mind. We are approaching the abominable crisis of that mournful day, the 4th; we are approaching that monstrous deed from which emerged the success of the coup d'état, dripping with blood. We are about to unveil the most horrible of the premeditated acts of Louis Bonaparte; we are about to reveal, to narrate, to describe what all the historiographers of the 2nd of December have concealed; what General Magnan carefully omitted in his report; what, even at Paris, where these things were seen, men scarcely dare to whisper to each other. We are about to enter upon the ghastly.

"The 2nd of December is a crime covered with darkness, a coffin closed and silent, from the cracks in which streams of blood gush forth.

"We are about to raise the coffin-lid."

Victor Hugo