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Chapter 37

THE ORATORS


All this was alive, ardent, fruitful, tumultuous, grand. And when everything had been pleaded, argued, investigated, searched, gone to the bottom of, said and gainsaid, what came forth from the chaos? always the spark! What came forth from the cloud? always light! All that the tempest could do was to agitate the ray of light, and change it into lightning. There, in that tribune, has been propounded, analyzed, clarified, and almost always determined, every question of the day: questions of finance, questions of credit, questions of labour, questions of circulation, questions of salary, questions of state, questions of the land, questions of peace, questions of war. There, for the first time, was pronounced that phrase which contained a whole new alignment of society,--the Rights of Man. There, for fifty years, has been heard the ringing of the anvil upon which supernatural smiths were forging pure ideas,--ideas, those swords of the people, those lances of justice, that armour of law. There, suddenly impregnated with sympathetic currents, like embers which redden in the wind, all those who had flame in their hearts, great advocates like Ledru-Rollin and Berryer, great historians like Guizot, great poets like Lamartine, rose at once, and naturally, into great orators.

That tribune was a place of strength and of virtue. It saw, it inspired (for it is easy to believe that these emanations sprang from it), all those acts of devotion, of abnegation, of energy, of intrepidity. As for us, we honour every display of courage, even in the ranks of those who are opposed to us. One day the tribune was surrounded with darkness; it seemed as if an abyss had opened around it; and in this darkness one heard a noise like the roaring of the sea; and suddenly, in that impenetrable night, above that ledge of marble to which clung the strong hand of Danton, one saw arise a pike bearing a bleeding head! Boissy d'Anglas saluted it.

That was a day of menace. But the people do not overthrow tribunes. The tribunes belong to the people, and the people know it. Place a tribune in the centre of the world, and in a few days, in the four corners of the earth, the Republic will arise. The tribune shines for the people, and they are not unaware of it. Sometimes the tribune irritates the people, and makes them foam with rage; sometimes they beat it with their waves, they overflow it even, as on the 15th of May, but then they retire majestically like the ocean, and leave it standing upright like a beacon. To overthrow the tribune is, on the part of the people, rank folly; it is the proper work of tyrants only.

The people were rising, full of anger, of irritation. Some generous error had seized them, some illusion was leading them astray; they had misunderstood some act, some measure, some law; they were beginning to be wroth, they were laying aside that superb tranquillity wherein their strength consists, they were invading all the public squares with dull murmurings and formidable gestures; it was an émeute, an insurrection, civil war, a revolution, perhaps. The tribune was there. A beloved voice arose and said to the people: "Pause, look, listen, judge!" Si forte virum quem conspexere, silent. This was true at Rome, and true at Paris. The people paused. O Tribune! pedestal of men of might! from thee have sprung eloquence, law, authority, patriotism, devotion, and great thoughts,--the curb of the people, the muzzles of lions.

In sixty years, every sort of mind, every sort of intelligence, every description of genius, has successively spoken in that spot, the most resonant in the world. From the first Constituent Assembly to the last, from the first Legislative Assembly to the last, through the Convention, the Councils, and the Chambers, count the men if you can. It is a catalogue worthy of Homer. Follow the series! How many contrasting figures are there from Danton to Thiers? How many figures that resemble one another, from Barère to Baroche, from Lafayette to Cavaignac? To the names we have already mentioned,--Mirabeau, Vergniaud, Danton, Saint-Just, Robespierre, Camille Desmoulins, Manuel, Foy, Royer-Collard, Chateaubriand, Guizot, Thiers, Ledru-Rollin, Berryer, Lamartine,--add these other names, so different, sometimes hostile,--scholars, artists, men of science, men of the law, statesmen, warriors, democrats, monarchists, liberals, socialists, republicans, all famous, a few illustrious, each having the halo which befits him: Barnave, Cazalès, Maury, Mounier, Thouret, Chapelier, Pétion, Buzot, Brissot, Sieyès, Condorcet, Chénier, Carnot, Lanjuinais, Pontécoulant, Cambacérès, Talleyrand, Fontanes, Benjamin Constant, Casimir Perier, Chauvelin, Voyer d'Argenson, Laffitte, Dupont (de l'Eure), Fitz-James, Cuvier, Villemain, Camille Jordan, Lainé, Bonald, Villèle, Martignac, the two Lameths, the two Davids (the painter in '93, the sculptor in '48), Lamarque, Mauguin, Odilon Barrot, Arago, Garnier-Pagès, Louis Blanc, Marc Dufraisse, Lamennais, Émile de Girardin, Lamoricière, Dufaure, Crémieux, Michel (de Bourges), Jules Favre. What a constellation of talents! what a variety of aptitudes! what services rendered! what a battling of all the realities against all the errors! what brains at work! what an outlay, for the benefit of progress, of learning, of philosophy, of passion, of conviction, of experience, of sympathy, of eloquence! what a fertilising heat spread abroad! what a shining firmament of light!

And we do not name them all. To make use of an expression which is sometimes borrowed from the author of this book, "Nous en passons et des meilleurs." We have not even alluded to that valiant legion of young orators who arose on the Left during these last years,--Arnauld (de l'Ariège), Bancel, Chauffour, Pascal Duprat, Esquiros, de Flotte, Farcounet, Victor Hennequin, Madier de Montjau, Morellet, Noël Parfait, Pelletier, Sain, Versigny.

Let us insist upon this point: starting from Mirabeau, there was in the world, in human society, in civilization, a culminating point, a central spot, a common altar, a summit. This summit was the tribune of France; admirable landmark for coming generations, a glittering height in time of peace, a lighthouse in the darkness of catastrophes. From the extremities of the intelligent world, the peoples fixed their eyes upon this peak, from which has shone the human mind. When dark night suddenly enveloped them, they heard issuing from that height a mighty voice, which spoke to them in the darkness. Admonet et magna testatur voce per umbras. A voice which all at once, when the hour had come, like the cockcrow announcing the dawn, like the cry of the eagle hailing the sun, resounded like a clarion of war, or like the trumpet of judgment, and brought to their feet once more, awe-inspiring, waving their winding-sheets, seeking swords in their tombs, all those heroic dead nations,--Poland, Hungary, Italy! Then, at that voice of France, the glorious sky of the future opened; old despotisms, blinded and in fear, hid their heads in the nether darkness, and there, her feet upon the clouds, her forehead among the stars, a sword flashing in her hand, her mighty wings outspread in the azure depths, one saw Liberty appear, the archangel of the nations.


Victor Hugo