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Chapter 40


Two great problems hang over the world. War must disappear, and conquest must continue. These two necessities of a growing civilization seemed to exclude each other. How satisfy the one without failing the other? Who could solve the two problems at the same time? Who did solve them? The tribune! The tribune is peace, and the tribune is conquest. Conquest by the sword,--who wants it? Nobody. The peoples are fatherlands. Conquest by ideas,--who wants it? Everybody. The peoples are mankind. Now two preŽminent tribunes dominated the nations--the English tribune doing business, and the French tribune creating ideas. The French tribune had elaborated after '89 all the principles which form the political philosopher's stone, and it had begun to elaborate since 1848 all the principles which form the social philosopher's stone. When once a principle had been released from confinement and brought into the light, the French tribune threw it upon the world, armed from head to foot, saying: "Go!" The victorious principle took the field, met the custom-house officers on the frontier, and passed in spite of their watch-dogs; met the sentinels at the gates of cities, and passed despite their pass-words; travelled by railway, by packet-boat, scoured continents, crossed the seas, accosted wayfarers on the highway, sat at the firesides of families, glided between friend and friend, between brother and brother, between man and wife, between master and slave, between people and king; and to those who asked: "Who art thou?" it replied: "I am the truth;" and to those who asked: "Whence comest thou?" it replied, "I come from France." Then he who had questioned the principle offered it his hand, and it was better than the annexation of a province, it was the annexation of a human mind. Thenceforth, between Paris, the metropolis, and that man in his solitude, and that town buried in the heart of the woods or of the steppes, and that people groaning under the yoke, a current of thought and of love was established. Under the influence of these currents certain nationalities grew weak, whilst others waxed strong and rose again. The savage felt himself less savage, the Turk less Turk, the Russian less Russian, the Hungarian more Hungarian, the Italian more Italian. Slowly, and by degrees, the French spirit assimilated the other nations, for universal progress. Thanks to this admirable French language, composed by Providence, with wonderful equilibrium, of enough consonants to be pronounced by the nations of the North, and of enough vowels to be pronounced by the peoples of the South; thanks to this language, which is a power of civilization and of humanity, little by little, and by its radiation alone, this lofty central tribune of Paris conquered the nations and made them France. The material boundary of France was such as she could make it; but there were no treaties of 1815 to determine her moral frontier. The moral frontier constantly receded and broadened from day to day; and before a quarter of a century, perhaps, one would have said the French world, as one said the Roman world.

That is what the tribune was, that is what it was accomplishing for France, a prodigious engine of ideas, a gigantic factory ever elevating the level of intelligence all over the world, and infusing into the heart of humanity a vast flood of light.

And this is what M. Bonaparte has suppressed!

Victor Hugo