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Chapter 31


Such a man is this malefactor!

And shall we not applaud thee, O Truth! when, in the eyes of Europe and of the world, before the people, in the face of God, while he appealed to honour, the sanctity of an oath, faith, religion, the sacredness of human life, the law, the generosity of all hearts, wives, sisters, mothers, civilization, liberty, the republic, France; before his valets, his Senate and his Council of State; before his generals, his priests, and his police agents,--thou who representest the people (for the people is truth); thou who representest intelligence (for intelligence is enlightenment); thou who representest humanity (for humanity is reason); in the name of the enthralled people, in the name of exiled intelligence, in the name of outraged humanity, before this mass of slaves who cannot, or dare not, speak, thou dost scourge this brigand of order.

Let some one else choose milder words. I am outspoken and harsh; I have no pity for this pitiless man, and I glory in it.

Let us proceed.

To what we have just related add all the other crimes, to which we shall have occasion to return more than once, and the history of which, God granting us life, we shall relate in detail. Add the numberless incarcerations attended with circumstances of ferocity, the overgorged prisons,[1] the sequestration of property[2] of the proscribed in ten departments, notably in La Nièvre, in L'Allier, and in Les Basses-Alpes; add the confiscation of the Orleans property, with the slice allotted to the clergy. Schinderhannes never forgot to share with the curé. Add the mixed commissions, and the commission of clemency, so called;[3] the councils of war combined with the examining magistrates, and, multiplying the instances of abomination, the batches of exiles, the expulsion of a part of France out of France (the department of the Herault, alone, furnishing 3,200 persons, either banished or transported); add the appalling proscription,--comparable to the most tragic devastations in history,--which for an impulse, for an opinion, for an honest dissent from the government, for the mere word of a freeman, even when uttered before the 2nd of December, takes, seizes, apprehends, tears away the labourer from the field, the working-man from his trade, the house-holder from his house, the physician from his patients, the notary from his office, the counsellor from his clients, the judge from his court, the husband from his wife, the brother from his brother, the father from his children, the child from his parents, and marks its ill-omened cross on every head, from the highest to the lowest. Nobody escapes. A man in tatters, wearing a long beard, came into my room one morning at Brussels. "I have just arrived," said he; "I have travelled on foot, and have had nothing to eat for two days." Some bread was given him. He ate. "Where do you come from?"--"From Limoges."--"Why are you here?"--"I don't know; they drove me away from my home."--"What are you?"--"A maker of wooden shoes."

[1] The Bulletin des Lois publishes the following decree, dated the 27th of March:--

"Considering the law of May 10, 1838, which classes the ordinary expenses of the provincial prisons with those to be included in the departmental budgets:

"Whereas this is not the nature of the expenses occasioned by the arrests resulting from the events of December;

"Whereas the facts which have caused these arrests to multiply are connected with a plot against the safety of the state, the suppression of which concerned society at large, and therefore it is just to discharge out of the public funds the excess of expenditure resulting from the extraordinary increase in the number of prisoners;

"It is decreed that:--

"An extraordinary credit of 250,000f. be opened, at the Ministry of the Interior, on the revenue of 1851, to be applied to the liquidation of the expenses resulting from the arrests consequent on the events of December."

[2] "Digne, January 5, 1852.

"The Colonel commanding the state of siege in the department of the Basses-Alpes


"Within the course of ten days the property of the fugitives from the law will be sequestrated, and administered by the director of public lands in the Basses-Alpes, according to civil and military laws, etc.


Ten similar decrees, emanating from the commanders of states of siege, might be quoted. The first of the malefactors who committed this crime of confiscating property, and who set the example of arrests of this sort, is named Eynard. He is a general. On December 18, he placed under sequestration the property of a number of citizens of Moulins, "because," as he cynically observed, "the beginning of the insurrection leaves no doubt as to the part they took in the insurrection, and in the pillaging in the department of the Allier."

[3] The number of convictions actually upheld (in most cases the sentences were of transportation) was declared to be as follows, at the date of the reports:--

          By M. Canrobert         3,876

By M. Espinasse 3,625

By M. Quentin-Bauchard 1,634 ----- 9,135

Add Africa; add Guiana; add the atrocities of Bertrand, of Canrobert, of Espinasse, of Martimprey; the ship-loads of women sent off by General Guyon; Representative Miot dragged from casemate to casemate; hovels in which there are a hundred and fifty prisoners, beneath a tropical sun, with promiscuity of sex, filth, vermin, and where all these innocent patriots, all these honest people are perishing, far from their dear ones, in fever, in misery, in horror, in despair, wringing their hands. Add all these poor wretches handed over to gendarmes, bound two by two, packed in the lower decks of the Magellan, the Canada, the Duguesclin; cast among the convicts of Lambessa and Cayenne, not knowing what there is against them, and unable to guess what they have done. One of them, Alphonse Lambert, of the Indre, torn from his death-bed; another, Patureau Francoeur, a vine-dresser, transported, because in his village they wanted to make him president of the republic; a third, Valette, a carpenter at Châteauroux, transported for having, six months previous to the 2nd of December, on the day of an execution, refused to erect the guillotine.

Add to these the man-hunting in the villages, the battue of Viroy in the mountains of Lure, Pellion's battue in the woods of Clamecy, with fifteen hundred men; order restored at Crest--out of two thousand insurgents, three hundred slain; mobile columns everywhere. Whoever stands up for the law, sabred and shot: at Marseilles, Charles Sauvan exclaims, "Long live the Republic!" a grenadier of the 54th fires at him; the ball enters his side, and comes out of his belly; another, Vincent, of Bourges, is deputy-mayor of his commune: as a magistrate he protests against the coup d'état; they track him through the village, he flies, he is pursued, a cavalryman cuts off two of his fingers with his sword, another cleaves his head, he falls; they remove him to the fort at Ivry before dressing his wounds; he is an old man of seventy-six.

Add facts like these: in the Cher, Representative Vignier is arrested. Arrested for what? Because he is a representative, because he is inviolable, because he is consecrated by the votes of the people. Vignier is cast into prison. One day he is allowed to go out for one hour to attend to certain matters which imperatively demand his presence. Before he went out two gendarmes, Pierre Guéret and one Dubernelle, a brigadier, seized Vignier; the brigadier held his hands against each other so that the palms touched, and bound his wrists tightly with a chain; as the end of the chain hung down, the brigadier forced it between Vignier's hands, over and over, at the risk of fracturing his wrists by the pressure. The prisoner's hands turned blue and swelled.--"You are putting me to the question," said Vignier coolly.--"Hide your hands," sneered the gendarme, "if you're ashamed."--"You hound," retorted Vignier, "you are the one of us two that this chain dishonors."--In this wise Vignier passed through the streets of Bourges where he had lived thirty years--between two gendarmes, with his hands raised, exhibiting his chains. Representative Vignier is seventy years old.

Add the summary fusillades in twenty departments; "All who resist," writes Saint-Arnaud, Minister of War, "are to be shot, in the name of society defending itself."[4] "Six days have sufficed to crush the insurrection," states General Levaillant, who commanded the state of siege in the Var. "I have made some good captures," writes Commandant Viroy from Saint-Étienne; "I have shot, without stirring, eight persons, and am now in pursuit of the leaders in the woods." At Bordeaux, General Bourjoly enjoins the leaders of the mobile columns to "have shot forthwith every person caught with arms in his hands." At Forcalquier, it was better still; the proclamation declaring the state of siege reads:--"The town of Forcalquier is in a state of siege. Those citizens who took no part in the day's events, and those who have arms in their possession, are summoned to give them up on pain of being shot." The mobile column of Pézenas arrives at Servian: a man tries to escape from a house surrounded by soldiers; he is shot at and killed. At Entrains, eighty prisoners are taken; one of them escapes by the river, he is fired at, struck by a ball, and disappears under the water; the rest are shot. To these execrable deeds, add these infamous ones: at Brioude, in Haute-Loire, a man and woman thrown into prison for having ploughed the field of one of the proscribed; at Loriol, in the Drôme, Astier, a forest-keeper, condemned to twenty years' hard labour, for having sheltered fugitives. Add too, and my pen shakes as I write it, the punishment of death revived; the political guillotine re-erected; shocking sentences; citizens condemned to death on the scaffold by the judicial janissaries of the courts-martial: at Clamecy, Milletot, Jouannin, Guillemot, Sabatier, and Four; at Lyon, Courty, Romegal, Bressieux, Fauritz, Julien, Roustain, and Garan, deputy-mayor of Cliouscat; at Montpellier, seventeen for the affair of Bédarieux, Mercadier, Delpech, Denis, André, Barthez, Triadou, Pierre Carrière, Galzy, Galas (called Le Vacher), Gardy, Jacques Pagès, Michel Hercule, Mar, Vène, Frié, Malaterre, Beaumont, Pradal, the six last luckily being out of the jurisdiction; and at Montpellier four more, Choumac, Vidal, Cadelard and Pagès. What was the crime of these men? Their crime is yours, if you are a good subject; it is mine, who writes these lines; it is obedience to Article 110 of the Constitution; it is armed resistance to Louis Bonaparte's crime; and the court "orders that the execution shall take place in the usual way on one of the public squares of Béziers," with respect to the last four, and, in the case of the other seventeen, on one of the squares at Bédarieux. The Moniteur announces it; it is true that the Moniteur announces, at the same time, that the service of the last ball at the Tuileries was performed by three hundred maîtres d'hôtel, habited in the liveries rigorously prescribed by the ceremonial of the old imperial palace.

[4] Read the odious despatch, copied verbatim from the Moniteur:

"The armed insurrection has been totally suppressed in Paris by vigorous measures. The same energy will produce the same effect everywhere else.

"Bands of people who spread pillage, rapine, and fire, place themselves outside of the law. With them one does not argue or warn; one attacks and disperses them.

"All who resist must be SHOT, in the name of society defending itself."

Unless a universal cry of horror should stop this man in time, all these heads will fall.

Whilst we are writing, this is what has just occurred at Belley:--

A native of Bugez, near Belley, a working-man, named Charlet, had warmly advocated, on the 10th of December, 1848, the election of Louis Bonaparte. He had distributed circulars, supported, propagated, and hawked them; the election was in his eyes a triumph; he hoped in Louis-Napoleon; he took seriously the socialist writings of the prisoner of Ham, and his "philanthropical" and "republican" programmes: on the 10th of December there were many such honest dupes; they are now the most indignant. When Louis Bonaparte was in power, when they saw the man at work, these illusions vanished. Charlet, a man of intelligence, was one of those whose republican probity was outraged, and gradually, as Louis Bonaparte plunged deeper and deeper into reactionary measures, Charlet shook himself free; thus did he pass from the most confiding partisanship to the most open and zealous opposition. Such is the history of many other noble hearts.

On the 2nd of December, Charlet did not hesitate. In the face of the many crimes combined in the infamous deed of Louis Bonaparte, Charlet felt the law stirring within him; he reflected that he ought to be the more severe, because he was one of those whose trust had been most betrayed. He clearly understood that there remained but one duty for the citizen, a bounden duty, inseparable from the law,--to defend the Republic and the Constitution, and to resist by every means the man whom the Left, but still more his own crime, had outlawed. The refugees from Switzerland passed the frontier in arms, crossed the Rhône, near Anglefort, and entered the department of the Ain. Charlet joined their ranks.

At Seyssel, the little troop fell in with the custom-house officers. The latter, voluntary or misled accomplices of the coup d'état, chose to resist their passage. A conflict ensued, one of the officers was killed, and Charlet was made prisoner.

The coup d'état brought Charlet before a court-martial. He was charged with the death of the custom-house officer, which, after all, was but an incident of war. At all events, Charlet was innocent of that death; the officer was killed by a bullet, and Charlet had no weapon but a sharpened file.

Charlet would not recognize as a lawful court the body of men who pretended to sit in judgment on him. He said to them: "You are no judges; where is the law? The law is on my side." He refused to answer them.

Questioned on the subject of the officer's death, he could have cleared up the whole matter by a single word; but to descend to an explanation would, to a certain extent, have been a recognition of the tribunal. He did not choose to recognize it, so he held his peace.

These men condemned him to die, "according to the usual mode of criminal executions."

The sentence pronounced, he seemed to have been forgotten; days, weeks, months elapsed. Everybody about the prison said to Charlet, "You are safe."

On the 29th of June, at break of day, the town of Belley saw a mournful sight. The scaffold had risen from the earth during the night, and stood in the middle of the public square.

The people accosted one another, pale as death, and asked: "Have you seen what there is in the square?"--"Yes."--"Whom is it for?"

It was for Charlet.

The sentence of death had been referred to M. Bonaparte, it had slumbered a long time at the Élysée; there was other business to attend to; but one fine morning, after a lapse of seven months, all the world having forgotten the conflict at Seyssel, the slain custom-house officer, and Charlet himself, M. Bonaparte, wanting most likely to insert some event between the festival of the 10th of May and the festival of the 15th of August, signed the warrant for the execution.

On the 29th of June, therefore, only a few days ago, Charlet was removed from his prison. They told him he was about to die. He continued calm. A man who has justice on his side does not fear death, for he feels that there are two things within him: one, his body, which may be put to death, the other, justice, whose hands are not bound, nor does its head fall beneath the knife.

They wanted to make Charlet ride in a cart. "No," said he to the gendarmes, "I will go on foot, I can walk, I am not afraid."

There was a great crowd along his route. Every one in the town knew him and loved him; his friends sought his eye. Charlet, his arms fastened behind his back, bowed his head right and left. "Adieu, Jacques! adieu, Pierre!" said he, smiling. "Adieu, Charlet!" they answered, and all of them wept. The gendarmerie and the infantry surrounded the scaffold. He ascended it with slow and steady steps. When they saw him standing on the scaffold, a shudder ran through the crowd; the women cried aloud, the men clenched their fists.

While they were strapping him to the plank, he looked up at the knife, saying: "When I reflect that I was once a Bonapartist!" Then, raising his eyes to Heaven, he exclaimed, "Vive la République!"

The next moment his head fell.

It was a day of mourning at Belley and through all the villages of the Ain. "How did he die?" people would ask.--"Bravely."--"God be praised!"

In this wise a man has been killed.

The mind succumbs and is lost in horror in presence of a deed so damnable.

This crime being added to the rest complements and sets a sinister sort of seal upon them.

It is more than the complement, it is the crowning act.

One feels that M. Bonaparte ought to be satisfied! To have shot down at night, in the dark, in solitude, on the Champ-de-Mars, under the arches of the bridges, behind a lonely wall, at random, haphazard, no matter whom, unknown persons, shadows, the very number of whom none can tell; to cause nameless persons to be slain by nameless persons; and to have all this vanish in obscurity, in oblivion, is, in very truth, far from gratifying to one's self-esteem; it looks like hiding one's self, and in truth that is what it is; it is commonplace. Scrupulous men have the right to say to you: "You know you are afraid; you would not dare to do these things publicly; you shrink from your own acts." And, to a certain extent, they seem to be right. To shoot down people by night is a violation of every law, human and divine, but it lacks audacity. One does not feel triumphant afterwards. Something better is possible.

Broad daylight, the public square, the judicial scaffold, the regular apparatus of social vengeance--to hand the innocent over to these, to put them to death in this manner, ah! that is different. I can understand that. To commit a murder at high noon, in the heart of the town, by means of one machine called court, or court-martial, and of another machine slowly erected by a carpenter, adjusted, put together, screwed and greased at pleasure; to say it shall be at such an hour; then to display two baskets, and say: "This one is for the body, that other for the head;" at the appointed time to bring the victim bound with ropes, attended by a priest; to proceed calmly to the murder, to order a clerk to prepare a report of it, to surround the murder victim with gendarmes and naked swords, so that the people there may shudder, and no longer know what they see, and wonder whether those men in uniform are a brigade of gendarmerie or a band of robbers, and ask one another, looking at the man who lets the knife fall, whether he is the executioner or whether he is not rather an assassin! This is bold and resolute, this is a parody of legal procedure, most audacious and alluring, and worth being carried out. This is a noble and far-spreading blow on the cheek of justice. Commend us to this!

To do this seven months after the struggle, in cold blood, to no purpose, as an omission that one repairs, as a duty that one fulfills, is awe-inspiring, it is complete; one has the appearance of acting within one's rights, which perplexes the conscience and makes honest men shudder.

A terrible juxtaposition, which comprehends the whole case. Here are two men, a working-man and a prince. The prince commits a crime, he enters the Tuileries; the working-man does his duty, he ascends the scaffold. Who set up the working-man's scaffold? The prince!

Yes, this man who, had he been beaten in December, could have escaped the death penalty only by the omnipotence of progress, and by an enlargement, too liberal certainly, of the principle that human life is sacred; this man, this Louis Bonaparte, this prince who carries the practices of Poulmann and Soufflard into politics, he it is who rebuilds the scaffold! Nor does he tremble! Nor does he turn pale! Nor does he feel that it is a fatal ladder, that he is at liberty to refrain from erecting it, but that, when once it is erected, he is not at liberty to take it down, and that he who sets it up for another, afterwards finds it for himself. It knows him again, and says to him, "Thou didst place me here, and I have awaited thee."

No, this man does not reflect, he has longings, he has whims, and they must be satisfied. They are the longings of a dictator. Unlimited power would be tasteless without this seasoning. Go to,--cut off Charlet's head, and the others. M. Bonaparte is Prince-President of the French Republic; M. Bonaparte has sixteen millions a year, forty-four thousand francs a day, twenty-four cooks in his household, and as many aides-de-camp; he has the right of fishing in the ponds of Saclay and Saint-Quentin; of hunting in the forests of Laigne, Ourscamp, Carlemont, Champagne and Barbeau; he has the Tuileries, the Louvre, the Élysée, Rambouillet, Saint-Cloud, Versailles, Compiègne; he has his imperial box at every theatre, feasting and music every day, M. Sibour's smile, and the arm of the Marchioness of Douglas on which to enter the ballroom; but all this is not enough; he must have the guillotine to boot; he must have some of those red baskets among his baskets of champagne.

Oh! hide we our faces with both our hands! This man, this hideous butcher of the law and of justice, still had his apron round his waist and his hands in the smoking bowels of the Constitution, and his feet in the blood of all the slaughtered laws, when you, judges, when you, magistrates, men of the law, men of the right...! But I pause; I shall meet you hereafter with your black robes and your red robes, your robes of the colour of ink, and your robes of the colour of blood; and I shall find them, too, and having chastised them once, will chastise them again--those lieutenants of yours, those judicial supporters of the ambuscade, those soilers of the ermine,--Baroche, Suin, Royer, Mongis, Rouher, and Troplong, deserters from the law,--all those names which signify nothing more than the utmost contempt which man can feel.

If he did not crush his victims between two boards, like Christiern II; if he did not bury people alive, like Ludovic the Moor; if he did not build his palace walls with living men and stones, like Timour-Beg, who was born, says the legend, with his hands closed and full of blood; if he did not rip open pregnant women, like Cæsar Borgia, Duke of Valentinois; if he did not scourge women on the breasts, testibusque viros, like Ferdinand of Toledo; if he did not break on the wheel alive, burn alive, boil alive, flay alive, crucify, impale, and quarter, blame him not, the fault was not his; the age obstinately refuses to allow it. He has done all that was humanly or inhumanly possible. Given the nineteenth century, a century of gentleness,--of decadence, say the papists and friends of arbitrary power,--Louis Bonaparte has equalled in ferocity his contemporaries, Haynau, Radetzky, Filangieri, Schwartzenberg, and Ferdinand of Naples: he has even surpassed them. A rare merit, with which we must credit him as another impediment: the scene was laid in France. Let us do him this justice: in the times in which we live, Ludovic Sforza, the Valentinois, the Duke of Alva, Timour, and Christiern II, would have done no more than Louis Bonaparte; in their time, he would have done all that they did; in our time, just as they were about to erect their gibbets, their wheels, their wooden horses, their cranes, their living towers, their crosses, and their stakes, they would have desisted like him, in spite of themselves, and unconsciously, before the secret and invincible resistance of the moral environment, of that formidable and mysterious interdiction of an entire epoch, which rises in the north, the south, the east, and the west, to confront tyrants, and says no to them.

Victor Hugo