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Chapter 56

THE 5TH OF APRIL, 1852


On the 5th of April, 1852, this is what was witnessed at the Tuileries. About eight in the evening, the ante-chamber was filled with men in scarlet robes, grave and majestic, speaking with subdued voices, holding in their hands black velvet caps, bedecked with gold lace; most of them were white-haired. These were the presidents and councillors of the Court of Cassation, the first presidents of the Courts of Appeal, and the procureurs-general: all the superior magistracy of France. These persons were kept waiting in the ante-chamber. An aide-de-camp ushered them in and left them there. A quarter of an hour passed, half an hour, an hour; they wandered up and down the room, conversing, looking at their watches, awaiting the ringing of the bell. After more than an hour of tedious waiting they perceived that they had not even chairs to sit upon. One of them, M. Troplong, went to another room where the footmen were, and complained. A chair was brought him. At last a folding-door was thrown open; they rushed pell-mell into a salon. There a man in a black coat was standing with his back against the chimney-piece. What errand summoned these men in red robes to this man in a black coat? They came to tender him their oaths. The man was M. Bonaparte. He nodded, and, in return, they bowed to the ground, as is meet. In front of M. Bonaparte, at a short distance, stood his chancellor, M. Abbattucci, late a liberal deputy, now Minister of Justice to the coup d'état. The ceremony began. M. Abbattucci delivered a discourse, and M. Bonaparte made a speech. The Prince drawled a few contemptuous words, looking at the carpet; he spoke of his "legitimacy;" after which the magistrates took the oath. Each in turn raised his hand. While they were swearing, M. Bonaparte, his back half turned to them, laughed and chatted with his aides-de-camp, who were grouped behind him. When it was over he quite turned his back upon them, and they departed, shaking their heads, humbled and ashamed, not for having done a base deed, but because they had had no chairs in the ante-chamber.

As they were departing, the following dialogue was overheard:--"That," said one of them, "was an oath it was necessary to take." "And," said another, "which it will be necessary to keep." "Yes," said a third, "like the master of the house."

All this is pure servility. Let us proceed.

Among these first presidents who swore fidelity to Louis Bonaparte, were a certain number of former peers of France, who, as such, had passed upon Louis Bonaparte the sentence of perpetual imprisonment. But why should we look back so far? Let us still proceed; here is something even better. Among these magistrates, there were seven individuals, by name, Hardouin, Moreau, Pataille, Cauchy, Delapalme, Grandet, and Quesnault. Prior to the 2nd of December these seven men composed the High Court of Justice; the first, Hardouin, was president, the last two, deputy-presidents, the other four, judges. These men had received and accepted from the Constitution of 1848 a mandate thus conceived:--

"Article 68. Every measure by which the President of the Republic shall dissolve the National Assembly, prorogue it or impede the performance of its decrees, is high treason.

"The judges of the High Court shall thereupon immediately assemble, under penalty of forfeiture; they shall convoke the jurors in such place as they shall appoint, to proceed to the trial of the President and his accomplices; they shall themselves appoint magistrates to perform the functions of the national administration."

On the 2nd of December, in the face of the flagrant felony, they had begun the trial, and appointed a procureur-general, M. Renouard, who had accepted the office, to proceed against Louis Bonaparte on the charge of high treason. Let us add the name of Renouard to the seven. On the 5th of April, they were, all eight, present in the antechamber of Louis Bonaparte; we have just seen what was their business there.

Here it is impossible not to pause.

There are certain melancholy thoughts upon which one must have the strength to insist; there are sinks of ignominy we must have the courage to sound.

Cast your eyes upon that man. He was born at hazard, by misfortune, in a hovel, in a cellar, in a cave, no one knows where, no one knows of whom. He came out of the dust to fall into the mire. He had only so much father and mother as was necessary for his birth, after which all shrank from him. He has crawled on as best he could. He grew up bare-footed, bare-headed, in rags, with no idea why he was living. He can neither read nor write, nor does he know that there are laws above him; he scarcely knows there is a heaven. He has no home, no family, no creed, no book. He is a blind soul. His intellect has never opened, for intellect opens only to light as flowers open only to the day, and he dwells in the dark. However, he must eat. Society has made him a brute beast, hunger makes him a wild beast. He lies in wait for travellers on the outskirts of a wood, and robs them of their purses. He is caught, and sent to the galleys. So far, so good.

Now look at this other man; it is no longer the red cap, it is the red robe. He believes in God, reads Nicole, is a Jansenist, devout, goes to confession, takes the sacrament. He is well born, as they say, wants nothing, nor has ever wanted anything; his parents have lavished everything on his youth--trouble, instruction, advice, Greek and Latin, masters in every science. He is a grave and scrupulous personage; therefore he has been made a magistrate. Seeing this man pass his days in meditating upon all the great texts, both sacred and profane; in the study of the law, in the practice of religion, in the contemplation of the just and unjust, society placed in his keeping all that it holds most august, most venerable--the book of the law. It made him a judge, and the punisher of treason. It said to him: "A day may come, an hour may strike, when the chief by physical force shall trample under his foot both the law and the rights of man; then you, man of justice, you will arise, and smite with your rod the man of power."--For that purpose, and in expectation of that perilous and supreme day, it lavishes wealth upon him, and clothes him in purple and ermine. That day arrives, that hour, unique, pitiless, and solemn, that supreme hour of duty; the man in the red gown begins to stutter the words of the law; suddenly he perceives that it is not the cause of justice that prevails, but that treason carries the day. Whereupon he, the man who has passed his life in imbuing himself with the pure and holy light of the law, that man who is nothing unless he be the contemner of unmerited success, that lettered, scrupulous, religious man, that judge in whose keeping the law has been placed, and, in some sort, the conscience of the state, turns towards triumphant perjury, and with the same lips, the same voice in which, if this traitor had been vanquished, he would have said:

"Criminal, I sentence you to the galleys," he says:

"Monseigneur, I swear fealty to you."

Now take a balance, place in one scale the judge, in the other the felon, and tell me which side kicks the beam.


Victor Hugo