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Chapter 7


He has succeeded. The result is that he has plenty of apotheoses. Of panegyrists he has more than Trajan. One thing, however, has struck me, which is, that among all the qualities that have been discovered in him since the 2nd of December, among all the eulogies that have been addressed to him, there is not one word outside of this circle: adroitness, coolness, daring, address, an affair admirably prepared and conducted, moment well chosen, secret well kept, measures well taken. False keys well made--that's the whole story. When these things have been said, all has been said, except a phrase or two about "clemency;" and yet no one extols the magnanimity of Mandrin, who, sometimes, did not take all the traveller's money, and of Jean l'Ecorcheur, who, sometimes, did not kill all travellers.

In endowing M. Bonaparte with twelve millions of francs, and four millions more for keeping up the châteaux, the Senate--endowed by M. Bonaparte with a million--felicitated M. Bonaparte upon "having saved society," much as a character in a comedy congratulates another on having "saved the money-box."

For myself, I am still seeking in the glorification of M. Bonaparte by his most ardent apologists, any praise that would not exactly befit Cartouche or Poulailler, after a good stroke of business; and I blush sometimes for the French language, and for the name of Napoleon, at the terms, really over-raw, and too thinly veiled, and too appropriate to the facts, in which the magistracy and clergy felicitate this man on having stolen the power of the State by burglarising the Constitution, and on having, by night, evaded his oath.

When all the burglaries and all the robberies which constitute the success of his policy had been accomplished, he resumed his true name; every one then saw that this man was a Monseigneur. It was M. Fortoul,[1]--to his honour be it said--who first made this discovery.

[1] The first report addressed to M. Bonaparte, and in which M. Bonaparte is called Monseigneur is signed FORTOUL.

When one measures the man and finds him so small, and then measures his success, and finds it so enormous, it is impossible that the mind should not experience some surprise. One asks oneself: "How did he do it?" One dissects the adventure and the adventurer, and laying aside the advantage he derives from his name, and certain external facts, of which he made use in his escalade, one finds, as the basis of the man and his exploit, but two things,--cunning and cash.

As to cunning: we have already characterised this important quality of Louis Bonaparte; but it is desirable to dwell on the point.

On November 27, 1848, he said to his fellow-citizens in his manifesto: "I feel it incumbent on me to make known to you my sentiments and my principles. There must be no equivocation between you and me. I am not ambitious.... Brought up in free countries, in the school of misfortune, I shall ever remain faithful to the duties that shall be imposed on me by your suffrages, and the will of the Assembly. I shall make it a point of honour to leave, at the end of the four years, to my successor, power consolidated, liberty intact, and real progress accomplished."

On December 31, 1849, in his first message to the Assembly, he wrote: "It is my aspiration to be worthy of the confidence of the nation, by maintaining the Constitution which I have sworn to execute." On November 12, 1850, in his second annual message to the Assembly, he said: "If the Constitution contains defects and dangers, you are free to make them known to the country; I alone, bound by my oath, confine myself within the strict limits which that Constitution has traced." On September 4, in the same year, at Caen, he said: "When, in all directions, prosperity seems reviving, he were, indeed, a guilty man who should seek to check its progress by changing that which now exists." Some time before, on July 25, 1849, at the inauguration of the St. Quentin railway, he went to Ham, smote his breast at the recollection of Boulogne, and uttered these solemn words:

"Now that, elected by universal France, I am become the legitimate head of this great nation, I cannot pride myself on a captivity which was occasioned by an attack upon a regular government.

"When one has observed the enormous evils which even the most righteous revolutions bring in their train, one can scarcely comprehend one's audacity in having chosen to take upon one's self the terrible responsibility of a change; I do not, therefore, complain of having expiated here, by an imprisonment of six years, my rash defiance of the laws of my country, and it is with joy that, in the very scene of my sufferings, I propose to you a toast in honour of those who, notwithstanding their convictions, are resolute to respect the institutions of their country."

All the while he was saying this, he retained in the depths of his heart, as he has since proved, after his fashion, that thought which he had written in that same prison of Ham: "Great enterprises seldom succeed at the first attempt."[2]

[2] Historical Fragments.

Towards the middle of November, 1851, Representative F----, a frequenter of the Élysée, was dining with M. Bonaparte.

"What do they say in Paris, and in the Assembly?" asked the President of the representative.

"Oh, prince!"


"They are still talking."

"About what?"

"About the coup d'état."

"And the Assembly believes in it?"

"A little, prince."

"And you?"

"I--oh, not at all."

Louis Bonaparte earnestly grasped M. F----'s hands, and said to him with feeling:

"I thank you, M. F----, you, at least, do not think me a scoundrel."

This happened a fortnight before December 2. At that time, and indeed, at that very moment, according to the admission of Maupas the confederate, Mazas was being made ready.

Cash: that is M. Bonaparte's other source of strength.

Let us take the facts, judicially proved by the trials at Strasburg and Boulogne.

At Strasburg, on October 30, 1836, Colonel Vaudrey, an accomplice of M. Bonaparte, commissioned the quartermasters of the 4th Regiment of artillery, "to distribute among the cannoneers of each battery, two pieces of gold."

On the 5th of August, 1840, in the steamboat he had freighted, the Ville d'Edimbourg, while at sea, M. Bonaparte called about him the sixty poor devils, his domestics, whom he had deceived into accompanying him by telling them he was going to Hamburg on a pleasure excursion, harangued them from the roof of one of his carriages fastened on the deck, declared his project, tossed them their disguise as soldiers, gave each of them a hundred francs, and then set them drinking. A little drunkenness does not damage great enterprises. "I saw," said the witness Hobbs, the under-steward, before the Court of Peers,[3] "I saw in the cabin a great quantity of money. The passengers appeared to me to be reading printed papers; they passed all the night drinking and eating. I did nothing else but uncork bottles, and serve food." Next came the captain. The magistrate asked Captain Crow: "Did you see the passengers drink?"--Crow: "To excess; I never saw anything like it."[4]

[3] Court of Peers, Depositions of witnesses, p. 94.

[4] Court of Peers, Depositions of witnesses, pp. 71, 81, 88, 94.

They landed, and were met by the custom-house officers of Vimereux. M. Louis Bonaparte began proceedings, by offering the lieutenant of the guard a pension of 1,200 francs. The magistrate: "Did you not offer the commandant of the station a sum of money if he would march with you?"--The Prince: "I caused it to be offered him, but he refused it."[5]

[5] Court of Peers, Cross examination of the accused, p. 13.

They arrived at Boulogne. His aides-de-camp--he had some already--wore, hanging from their necks, tin cases full of gold pieces. Others came next with bags of small coins in their hands.[6] Then they threw money to the fishermen and the peasants, inviting them to cry: "Long live the Emperor!"--"Three hundred loud-mouthed knaves will do the thing," had written one of the conspirators.[7] Louis Bonaparte approached the 42nd, quartered at Boulogne.

[6] Court of Peers, Depositions of witnesses, pp. 103, 185, etc.

[7] The President: Prisoner Querelles, these children that cried out, are not they the three hundred loud-mouthed knaves that you asked for in your letter?--(Trial at Strasburg.)

He said to the voltigeur Georges Koehly: "I am Napoleon; you shall have promotion, decorations." He said to the voltigeur Antoine Gendre: "I am the son of Napoleon; we are going to the Hôtel du Nord to order a dinner for you and me." He said to the voltigeur Jean Meyer: "You shall be well paid." He said to the voltigeur Joseph Mény: "You must come to Paris; you shall be well paid."[8]

[8] Court of Peers, Depositions of witnesses, pp. 142, 143, 155, 156, 158.

An officer at his side held in his hand his hat full of five-franc pieces, which he distributed among the lookers-on, saying: "Shout, Long live the Emperor!"

The grenadier Geoffroy, in his evidence, characterises in these words the attempt made on his mess by an officer and a sergeant who were in the plot: "The sergeant had a bottle in his hand, and the officer a sabre." In these few words is the whole 2nd of December.

Let us proceed:--

"Next day, June 17, the commandant, Mésonan, who I thought had gone, entered my room, announced by my aide-de-camp. I said to him, 'Commandant, I thought you were gone!'--'No, general, I am not gone. I have a letter to give you.'--'A letter? And from whom?'--'Read it, general.'

"I asked him to take a seat; I took the letter, but as I was opening it, I saw that the address was--à M. le Commandant Mésonan. I said to him: 'But, my dear Commandant, this is for you, not for me.'--'Read it, General!'--I opened the letter and read thus:--

"'My dear Commandant, it is most essential that you should immediately see the general in question; you know he is a man of resolution, on whom one may rely. You know also that he is a man whom I have put down to be one day a marshal of France. You will offer him, from me, 100,000 francs; and you will ask him into what banker's or notary's hands I shall pay 300,000 francs for him, in the event of his losing his command.'

"I stopped here, overcome with indignation; I turned over the leaf, and I saw that the letter was signed, 'LOUIS NAPOLEON.'

"I handed the letter back to the commandant, saying that it was a ridiculous and abortive affair."

Who speaks thus? General Magnan. Where? In the open Court of Peers. Before whom? Who is the man seated on the prisoners' bench, the man whom Magnan covers with "scorn," the man towards whom Magnan turns his "indignant" face? Louis Bonaparte.

Money, and with money gross debauchery: such were his means of action in his three enterprises at Strasburg, at Boulogne, at Paris. Two failures and a success. Magnan, who refused at Boulogne, sold himself at Paris. If Louis Bonaparte had been defeated on the 2nd of December, just as there were found on him, at Boulogne, the 500,000 francs he had brought from London, so there would have been found at the Élysée, the twenty-five millions taken from the Bank.

There has, then, been in France,--one must needs speak of these things coolly,--in France, that land of the sword, that land of cavaliers, the land of Hoche, of Drouot, and of Bayard--there has been a day, when a man, surrounded by five or six political sharpers, experts in ambuscades, and grooms of coups d'état, lolling in a gilded office, his feet on the fire-dogs, a cigar in his mouth, placed a price upon military honour, weighed it in the scales like a commodity, a thing buyable and sellable, put down the general at a million, the private at a louis, and said of the conscience of the French army: "That is worth so much."

And this man is the nephew of the Emperor.

By the bye, this nephew is not proud: he accommodates himself, with great facility, to the necessities of his adventures; adapts himself readily and without reluctance, to every freak of destiny. Place him in London, and let it be his interest to please the English government, he would not hesitate, and with the very hand which now seeks to seize the sceptre of Charlemagne, he would grasp the truncheon of a policeman. If I were not Napoleon, I would be Vidocq.

And here thought pauses!

And such is the man by whom France is governed! governed, do I say? possessed rather in full sovereignty!

And every day, and every moment, by his decrees, by his messages, by his harangues, by all these unprecedented imbecilities which he parades in the Moniteur, this émigré, so ignorant of France, gives lessons to France! and this knave tells France that he has saved her! From whom? from herself. Before he came, Providence did nothing but absurdities; God waited for him to put everything in order; and at length he came. For the last thirty-six years poor France had been afflicted with all sorts of pernicious things: that "sonority," the tribune; that hubbub, the press; that insolence, thought; that crying abuse, liberty: he came, and for the tribune, he substituted the Senate; for the press, the censorship; for thought, imbecility; for liberty, the sabre; and by the sabre, the censorship, imbecility, and the Senate, France is saved! Saved! bravo! and from whom, I ask again? from herself. For what was France before, if you please? a horde of pillagers, robbers, Jacquerie, assassins, demagogues! It was necessary to put fetters on this abominable villain, this France, and it was M. Bonaparte Louis who applied the fetters. Now France is in prison, on bread and water, punished, humiliated, throttled and well guarded; be tranquil, everybody; Sieur Bonaparte, gendarme at the Élysée, answers for her to Europe; this miserable France is in her strait waistcoat, and if she stirs!--

Ah! what spectacle is this? What dream is this? What nightmare is this? On the one hand, a nation, first among nations, and on the other, a man, last among men--and see what that man does to that nation! God save the mark! He tramples her under foot, he laughs at her to her face, he flouts her, he denies her, he insults her, he scoffs at her! How now! He says, there is none but I! What! in this land of France where no man's ears may be boxed with impunity, one may box the ears of the whole people! Oh! abominable shame! Each time that M. Bonaparte spits, every one must needs wipe his face! And this can last! And you tell me that it will last! No! No! No! By all the blood we have in our veins, no! this shall not last. Were it to last, it must be that there is no God in heaven, or no longer a France on earth!

Victor Hugo