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Chapter 36

THE TRIBUNE


From the moment that that man put his foot upon that platform, that platform was transformed. The French tribune was founded.

The French tribune! A volume would be necessary to tell all that that word contains. The French tribune has been, these sixty years, the open mouth of human intelligence. Of human intelligence, saying everything, combining everything, blending everything, fertilizing everything: the good, the bad, the true, the false, the just, the unjust, the high, the low, the horrible, the beautiful, dreams, facts, passion, reason, love, hate, the material, the ideal; but, in a word--for that is the essence of its sublime and eternal mission--making darkness in order to draw from it light, making chaos to draw from it life, making the revolution to draw from it the republic.

What has taken place upon that tribune, what it has seen, what it has done, what tempests have raged around it, to what events it has given birth, what men have shaken it with their clamour, what men have made it sacred with their truths--how recount this? After Mirabeau,--Vergniaud, Camille Desmoulins, Saint-Just, that stern young man, Danton, that tremendous tribune, Robespierre, that incarnation of the great and terrible year! From it were heard those ferocious interruptions. "Aha!" cries an orator of the Convention, "do you propose to cut short my speech?" "Yes," answers a voice, "and your neck to-morrow." And those superb apostrophes. "Minister of Justice," said General Foy to an iniquitous Keeper of the Seals, "I condemn you, on leaving this room, to contemplate the statue of L'H˘pital."--There, every cause has been pleaded, as we have said before, bad causes as well as good; the good only have been finally won; there, in the presence of resistance, of denials, of obstacles, those who long for the future, like those who long for the past, have lost all patience; there, it has happened to truth to become violent, and to falsehood to rage; there, all extremes have appeared. On that tribune the guillotine had its orator, Marat; and the Inquisition its Montalembert. Terrorism in the name of public safety, terrorism in the name of Rome; gall in the mouths of both, agony in the audience. When one was speaking, you fancied you saw the gleam of the knife; when the other was speaking, you fancied you heard the crackling of the stake. There factions have fought, all with determination, a few with glory. There, the royal power violated the right of the people in the person of Manuel, become illustrious in history by this very violation; there appeared, disdaining the past, whose servants they were, two melancholy old men: Royer-Collard, disdainful probity, Chateaubriand, the satirical genius; there, Thiers, skill, wrestled with Guizot, strength; there men have mingled, have grappled, have fought, have brandished evidence like a sword. There, for more than a quarter of a century, hatred, rage, superstition, egotism, imposture, shrieking, hissing, barking, writhing, screaming always the same calumnies, shaking always the same clenched fist, spitting, since Christ, the same saliva, have whirled like a cloud-storm about thy serene face, O Truth!


Victor Hugo