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Chapter 30



What was the number of the dead?

Louis Bonaparte, conscious of the advent of history, and imagining that a Charles IX can extenuate a Saint Bartholomew, has published as a pièce justificative, a so-called "official list of the deceased persons." In this "Alphabetical List,"[1] you will meet with such items as these: "Adde, bookseller, 17 Boulevard Poissonnière, killed in his house; Boursier, a child seven years and a-half old, killed on Rue Tiquetonne; Belval, cabinetmaker, 10 Rue de la Lune, killed in his house; Coquard, house-holder at Vire (Calvados), killed on Boulevard Montmartre; Debaecque, tradesman, 45 Rue de Sentier, killed in his house; De Couvercelle, florist, 257 Rue Saint-Denis, killed in his house; Labilte, jeweller, 63 Boulevard Saint-Martin, killed in his house; Monpelas, perfumer, 181 Rue Saint-Martin, killed in his house; Demoiselle Grellier, housekeeper, 209 Faubourg Saint-Martin, killed on Boulevard Montmartre; Femme Guillard, cashier, 77 Faubourg Saint-Denis, killed on Boulevard Saint-Denis; Femme Garnier, confidential servant, 6 Boulevard Bonne-Nouvelle, killed on Boulevard Saint-Denis; Femme Ledaust, housekeeper, 76 Passage du Caire, at the Morgue; Françoise Noël, waistcoat-maker, 20 Rue des Fossés-Montmartre, died at La Charité; Count Poninski, annuitant, 32 Rue de la Paix, killed on Boulevard Montmartre; Femme Raboisson, dressmaker, died at the National Hospital; Femme Vidal, 97 Rue de Temple, died at the Hôtel-Dieu; Femme Séguin, embroideress, 240 Rue Saint-Martin, died at the hospital Beaujon; Demoiselle Seniac, shop-woman, 196 Rue du Temple, died at the hospital Beaujon; Thirion de Montauban, house-holder, 10 Rue de Lancry, killed at his own door," etc., etc.

[1] The functionary who drew up this list, is, we know, a learned and accurate statistician; he prepared this statement honestly, we have no doubt. He has stated what was shown to him, and what he was permitted to see, but what was concealed from him was beyond his reach. The field for conjecture is left open.

To abridge: Louis Bonaparte confesses, in this state paper, one hundred and ninety-one murders.

This document being cited for what it is worth, the question is, what is the true total? What is the exact figure of his victims? How many corpses bestrew the coup d'état of December? Who can tell? Who knows? Who will ever know? As we have already seen, one witness deposed: "I counted in that place thirty-three bodies;" another, at a different part of the boulevard, said: "We counted eighteen bodies within a space of twenty or twenty-five yards." A third person, speaking of another spot, said: "There were upwards of sixty bodies within a distance of sixty yards." The writer so long threatened with death told ourselves: "I saw with my eyes upwards of eight hundred dead bodies lying along the boulevard."

Now think, compute how many it requires of battered brains, of breasts shattered by grape-shot, to cover with blood, "literally," half a mile of boulevards. Go you, as did the wives, the sisters, the daughters, the wailing mothers, take a torch, plunge into the dark night, feel on the ground, feel along the pavement and the walls, pick up the corpses, interrogate the phantoms, and reckon if you can.

The number of his victims! One is reduced to conjecture. This question must be solved by history. As for us, it is a question which we pledge ourselves to examine and explore hereafter.

On the first day, Louis Bonaparte made a display of his slaughter. We have told the reason why. It suited his purpose. After that, having derived from the deed all the required advantage, he concealed it. Orders were given to the Élyséan journals to be silent, to Magnan to omit, to the historiographers to know nothing. They buried the slain after midnight, without lights, without processions, without prayers, without priests, by stealth. Families were enjoined not to weep too loud.

The massacre along the boulevards was only a part; it was followed by the summary fusillades, the secret executions.

One of the witnesses whom we have questioned asked a major in the gendarmerie mobile, who had distinguished himself in these butcheries: "Come, tell us the figure? Was it four hundred?" The man shrugged his shoulders. "Was it six hundred?" The man shook his head. "Eight hundred?"--"Say twelve hundred," said the officer, "and you will fall short."

At this present hour nobody knows exactly what the 2nd of December was, what it did, what it dared, whom it killed, whom it buried. The very morning of the crime, the newspaper offices were placed under seal, free speech was suppressed, by Louis Bonaparte, that man of silence and darkness. On the 2nd, the 3rd, the 4th, the 5th, and ever since, Truth has been taken by the throat and strangled just as she was about to speak. She could not even utter a cry. He has deepened the gloom about his ambuscade and he has succeeded in part. Let history strive as she may, the 2nd of December will, perhaps, continue involved, for a long time to come, in a sort of ghastly twilight. It is a crime made up of audacity and darkness; here it shows itself impudently in broad daylight; there it skulks away into the mist. Hideous and double-faced effrontery, which conceals no one knows what monstrosities beneath its cloak.

But these glimpses are sufficient. There is a certain side of the 2nd of December where all is dark; but, within that darkness, graves are visible.

Beneath this great enormity a host of crimes may be vaguely distinguished. Such is the behest of Providence; there are compulsions linked to treason. You are a perjurer! You violate your oaths! You trample upon law and justice! Well! take a rope, for you will be compelled to strangle; take a dagger, for you will be compelled to stab; take a club, for you will be compelled to strike; take shadow and darkness, for you will be compelled to hide yourself. One crime brings on another; there is a logical consistency in horror. There is no halting, no middle course. Go on! do this first; good! Now do that, then this again; and so for ever! The law is like the veil of the Temple: once rent, it is rent from top to bottom.

Yes, we say it again, in what has been called "the act of the 2nd of December," one meets with crime at every depth. Perjury floats on the surface, murder lies at the bottom. Partial homicides, wholesale butcheries, shooting in open day, fusillades by night; a steam of blood rises from every part of the coup d'état.

Search in the common grave of the churchyards, search beneath the street pavement, beneath the sloping banks of the Champ-de-Mars, beneath the trees of the public gardens, in the bed of the Seine!

But few revelations. That is easily understood. Bonaparte has the satanic art of binding to himself a crowd of miserable officials by I know not what terrible universal complicity. The stamped papers of the magistrates, the desks of the registrars, the cartridge-boxes of the soldiers, the prayers of the priests, are his accomplices. He has cast his crime about him like a network, and prefects, mayors, judges, officers, and soldiers are caught therein. Complicity descends from the general to the corporal, and ascends from the corporal to the president. The sergent-de-ville and the minister feel that they are equally implicated. The gendarme whose pistol has pressed against the ear of some unfortunate, and whose uniform has been splashed with human brains, feels as guilty as his colonel. Above, cruel men gave orders which savage men executed below. Savagery keeps the secret of cruelty. Hence this hideous silence.

There is even emulation and rivalry between this savagery and this atrocity; what escaped the one was seized upon by the other. The future will refuse to credit these prodigious excesses. A workman was crossing the Pont au Change, some gendarmes mobiles stopped him; they smelt his hands. "He smells of powder," said a gendarme. They shot the workman; his body was pierced by four balls. "Throw him into the stream," cries the sergeant. The gendarmes take him by the neck and heels and hurl him over the bridge. Shot, and then drowned, the man floats down the river. However, he was not dead; the icy river revived him; but he was unable to move, his blood flowed into the water from four holes; but being held up by his blouse, he struck against an arch of one of the bridges. There some lightermen discovered him, picked him up, and carried him to the hospital; he recovered; he left the place. The next day he was arrested, and brought before a court-martial. Rejected by death, he was reclaimed by Louis Bonaparte. This man is now at Lambessa.

What the Champ-de-Mars secretly witnessed,--the terrible night tragedies which dismayed and dishonoured it,--history cannot yet reveal. Thanks to Louis Bonaparte, this revered field of the Federation may in future be called Aceldama. One of the unhappy soldiers whom the man of the 2nd of December transformed into executioners, relates with horror, and beneath his breath, that in a single night the number of people shot was not less than eight hundred.

Louis Bonaparte hastened to dig a grave and threw in his crime. A few shovelfuls of earth, a sprinkling of holy water by a priest, and all was said. And now, the imperial carnival dances above that grave.

Is this all? Can it be that this is the end? Does God allow and acquiesce in such burials? Believe it not. Some day, beneath the feet of Bonaparte, between the marble pavements of the Élysée or the Tuileries, this grave will suddenly re-open, and those bodies will come forth, one after another, each with its wound, the young man stricken to the heart, the old man shaking his aged head pierced by a ball, the mother put to the sword, with her infant killed in her arms,--all of them upstanding, pallid, terrible to see, and with bleeding eyes fixed on their assassin.

Awaiting that day, and even now, history has begun to try you, Louis Bonaparte. History rejects your official list of the dead, and your pièces justificatives.

History asserts that they lie, and that you lie.

You have tied a bandage over the eyes of France and put a gag in her mouth. Wherefore?

Was it to do righteous deeds? No, but crimes. The evil-doer is afraid of the light.

You shot people by night, on the Champ-de-Mars, at the Prefecture, at the Palais de Justice, on the squares, on the quays, everywhere.

You say you did not.

I say you did.

In dealing with you we have a right to surmise, to suspect, and to accuse.

What you deny, we have a right to believe; your denial is equivalent to affirmation.

Your 2nd of December is pointed at by the public conscience. Nobody thinks of it without inwardly shuddering. What did you do in those dark hours?

Your days are ghastly, your nights are suspicious. Ah! man of darkness that you are!

       *      *      *      *      *      *      *

Let us return to the butchery on the boulevard, to the words, "Let my orders be executed!" and to the day of the 4th.

Louis Bonaparte, during the evening of that day, must have compared himself to Charles X, who refused to burn Paris, and to Louis Philippe, who would not shed the people's blood, and he must have done himself the justice to admit that he is a great politician. A few days later, General T----, formerly in the service of one of the sons of King Louis Philippe, came to the Élysée. As soon as Louis Bonaparte caught sight of him, the comparison we have just pointed out suggesting itself to him, he cried out to the general, exultingly: "Well?"

Louis Bonaparte is in very truth the man who said to one of his former ministers, who was our own informant: "Had I been Charles X, and had I, during the days of July, caught Laffitte, Benjamin Constant, and Lafayette, I would have had them shot like dogs."

On the 4th of December, Louis Bonaparte would have been dragged that very night from the Élysée, and the law would have prevailed, had he been one of those men who recoil before a massacre. Fortunately for him, he had no such scruples. What signified a few dead bodies, more or less? Nonsense! kill! kill at random! cut them down! shoot, cannonade, crush, smash! Strike terror for me into this hateful city of Paris! The coup d'état was in a bad way; this great homicide restored its spirit. Louis Bonaparte had nearly ruined himself by his felony; he saved himself by his ferocity. Had he been only a Faliero, it was all over with him; fortunately he was a Cæsar Borgia. He plunged with his crime into a river of gore; one less culpable would have sunk, he swam across. Such was his success as it is called. He is now on the other bank, striving to wipe himself dry, dripping with the blood which he mistakes for the purple, and demanding the Empire.

Victor Hugo