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Chapter 55


All morality is denied by such an oath, the cup of shame drained to the dregs, all decency outraged. There is no reason why one should not see unheard-of things, and one sees them. In some towns, Evreux for example, the judges who have taken the oath sit in judgment on the judges who have refused it;[1] dishonour seated on the bench places honour at the bar; the sold conscience "reproves" the upright conscience; the courtesan lashes the virgin.

[1] The President of the Tribunal of Commerce at Evreux refused to take the oath. Let us listen to the Moniteur:

"M. Verney, late President of the Tribunal of Commerce at Evreux, was cited to appear, on Thursday last, before the correctional judges of Evreux, on account of facts that took place on the 29th of April last, within the consular auditory.

"M. Verney is accused of inciting to hatred and treason against the Government."

The judges of first instance discharged M. Verney, and "reproved" him. Appeal a minima by the "procureur of the Republic." Sentence of the Court of Appeal of Rouen:--

"The Court,--

"Whereas the prosecution has no other object than the repression of the crime of inciting to hatred and scorn of the Government;

"Whereas that offence would result, according to the prosecution, from the last paragraph of the letter of M. Verney to the procureur of the Republic at Evreux, on the 26th of April last, which is thus worded:--

"'But it would be too serious a matter to barter any longer what we conceive to be right. The magistracy itself will owe us thanks for not exposing the ermine of the judge to succumb under the formality which your dispatch announces.'

"Whereas, however blamable the conduct of Verney has been in this affair, the Court cannot see in that portion of the letter, the offence of inciting to hatred and contempt of the Government, since the order by which force was to be employed to prevent the judges from taking their seats who had refused to take the oaths, did not emanate from the Government;

"Whereas there is no ground, therefore, for applying to him the penal code;

"For these reasons,

"Confirms the judgment without costs."

The Court of Appeal at Rouen has for its first President, M. Franck-Carré, formerly procureur-general to the Court of Peers in the prosecution at Boulogne; the same who addressed to M. Louis Bonaparte these words: "You have caused corruption to be employed and money to be distributed to buy treason."

With this oath one journeys from surprise to surprise. Nicolet was but a booby compared to M. Bonaparte. When M. Bonaparte had had the circuit made of his valets, his accomplices, and his victims, and had pocketed all their oaths, he turned good-naturedly to the valiant chiefs of the African army, and "spoke to them nearly in these words:" "By the bye, you are aware I caused you to be arrested at night, by my men, when you were in your beds; my spies broke into your domiciles, sword in hand; I have in fact decorated them for that feat of arms; I caused you to be threatened with the gag if you uttered a cry; my agents took you by the collar; I have had you placed in a felon's cell at Mazas, and in my own dungeon at Ham; your hands still bear the marks of the cords with which I bound you. Bonjour, messieurs, may God have you in his keeping; swear fealty to me." Changarnier fixed his eyes upon him, and made answer: "No, traitor!" Bedeau replied: "No, forger!" Lamoricière replied: "No, perjurer!" Leflô answered: "No, bandit!" Charras struck him in the face.

At this moment M. Bonaparte's face is red, not from shame, but from the blow.

There is one other variety of the oath. In the fortresses, in the prisons, in the hulks, in the jails of Africa, there are thousands of prisoners. Who are those prisoners? We have said,--republicans, patriots, soldiers of the law, innocent men, martyrs. Their sufferings have already been proclaimed by generous voices, and one has a glimpse of the truth. In our special volume on the 2nd of December, it shall be our task to tear asunder the veil. Do you wish to know what is taking place?--Sometimes, when endurance is at an end and strength exhausted, bending beneath the weight of misery, without shoes, without bread, without clothing, without a shirt, consumed by fever, devoured by vermin, poor artisans torn from their workshops, poor husbandmen forcibly taken from the plough, weeping for a wife, a mother, children, a family widowed or orphaned, also without bread and perhaps without shelter, overdone, ill, dying, despairing,--some of these wretched beings succumb, and consent to "ask for pardon!" Then a letter is presented for their signature, all written and addressed: "To Monseigneur le Prince-President." We give publicity to this letter, as Sieur Quentin Bauchart avows it.

"I, the undersigned, declare upon my honour, that I accept most thankfully the pardon offered me by Prince Louis-Napoleon, and I engage never to become a member of any secret society, to respect the law, and be faithful to the Government that the country has chosen by the votes of the 20th and 21st of December, 1851."

Let not the meaning of this grave performance be misunderstood. This is not clemency granted, it is clemency implored. This formula: "Ask us for your pardon," means: "Grant us our pardon." The murderer, leaning over his victim and with his knife raised, cries: "I have waylaid you, seized you, hurled you to the earth, despoiled and robbed you, passed my knife through your body, and now you are under my feet, your blood is oozing from twenty wounds; say you repent, and I will not finish you." This repentance exacted by a criminal from an innocent man, is nothing else than the outward form which his inward remorse assumes. He fancies that he is thus safeguarded against his own criminality. Whatever expedient he may adopt to deaden his feelings, although he may be for ever ringing in his own ears the seven million five hundred thousand little bells of his plebiscite, the man of the coup d'état reflects at times; he catches vague glimpses of a tomorrow, and struggles against the inevitable future. He must have legal purgation, discharge, release from custody, quittance. He exacts it from the vanquished, and at need puts them to the torture, to obtain it. Louis Bonaparte knows that there exists, in the conscience of every prisoner, of every exile, of every man proscribed, a tribunal, and that that tribunal is beginning his prosecution; he trembles, the executioner feels a secret dread of his victim; and, under pretext of a pardon accorded by him to that victim, he forces his judges to sign his acquittal.

Thus he hopes to deceive France, which, too, is a living conscience and a watchful tribunal; and that when the hour for passing sentence shall strike, seeing that he has been absolved by his victims, she will pardon him. He deceives himself. Let him cut a hole in the wall on another side, he will not escape through that one.

Victor Hugo