The History of a Crime, by Victor Hugo

Chapter xiii.

Louis Bonaparte’s Side-Face

The minds of all these men, we repeat, were very differently affected.

The extreme Legitimist party, which represents the White of the flag, was not, it must be said, highly exasperated at the coup d’état. Upon many faces might be read the saying of M. de Falloux: “I am so satisfied that I have considerable difficulty in affecting to be only resigned.” The ingenuous spirits cast down their eyes — that is becoming to purity; more daring spirits raised their heads. They felt an impartial indignation which permitted a little admiration. How cleverly these generals have been ensnared! The Country assassinated — it is a horrible crime; but they were enraptured at the jugglery blended with the parricide. One of the leaders said, with a sigh of envy and regret, “We do not possess a man of such talent.” Another muttered, “It is Order.” And he added, “Alas!” Another exclaimed, “It is a frightful crime, but well carried out.” Some wavered, attracted on one side by the lawful power which rested in the Assembly, and on the other by the abomination which was in Bonaparte; honest souls poised between duty and infamy. There was a M. Thomines Desmazures who went as far as the door of the Great Hall of the Mairie, halted, looked inside, looked outside, and did not enter. It would be unjust not to record that others amongst the pure Royalists, and above all M. de Vatimesnil, had the sincere intonation and the upright wrath of justice.

Be it as it may, the Legitimist party, taken as a whole, entertained no horror of the coup d’état. It feared nothing. In truth, should the Royalists fear Louis Bonaparte? Why?

Indifference does not inspire fear. Louis Bonaparte was indifferent. He only recognized one thing, his object. To break through the road in order to reach it, that was quite plain; the rest might be left alone. There lay the whole of his policy, to crush the Republicans, to disdain the Royalists.

Louis Bonaparte had no passion. He who writes these lines, talking one day about Louis Bonaparte with the ex-king of Westphalia, remarked, “In him the Dutchman tones down the Corsican.”—“If there be any Corsican,” answered Jérome.

Louis Bonaparte has never been other than a man who has lain wait for fortune, a spy trying to dupe God. He had that livid dreaminess of the gambler who cheats. Cheating admits audacity, but excludes anger. In his prison at Ham he only read one book, “The Prince.” He belonged to no family, as he could hesitate between Bonaparte and Verhuell; he had no country, as he could hesitate between France and Holland.

This Napoleon had taken St. Helena in good part. He admired England. Resentment! To what purpose? For him on earth there only existed his interests. He pardoned, because he speculated; he forgot everything, because he calculated upon everything. What did his uncle matter to him? He did not serve him; he made use of him. He rested his shabby enterprise upon Austerlitz. He stuffed the eagle.

Malice is an unproductive outlay. Louis Bonaparte only possessed as much memory as is useful. Hudson Lowe did not prevent him from smiling upon Englishmen; the Marquis of Montchenu did not prevent him from smiling upon the Royalists.

He was a man of earnest politics, of good company, wrapped in his own scheming, not impulsive, doing nothing beyond that which he intended, without abruptness, without hard words, discreet, accurate, learned, talking smoothly of a necessary massacre, a slaughterer, because it served his purpose.

All this, we repeat, without passion, and without anger. Louis Bonaparte was one of those men who had been influenced by the profound iciness of Machiavelli.

It was through being a man of that nature that he succeeded in submerging the name of Napoleon by superadding December upon Brumaire.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38