The History of a Crime, by Victor Hugo

Chapter xvi.

The Episode of the Boulevard St. Martin

When Charamaule and I reached No. 70, Rue Blanche, a steep lonely street, a man in a sort of naval sub-officer’s uniform, was walking up and down before the door. The portress, who recognized us, called our attention to him. “Nonsense,” said Charamaule, “a man walking about in that manner, and dressed after that fashion, is assuredly not a police spy.”

“My dear colleague,” said I, “Bedeau has proved that the police are blockheads.”

We went upstairs. The drawing-room and a little ante-chamber which led to it were full of Representatives, with whom were mingled a good many persons who did not belong to the Assembly. Some ex-members of the Constituent Assembly were there, amongst others, Bastide and several Democratic journalists. The Nationale was represented by Alexander Rey and Léopold Duras, the Révolution by Xavier Durrieu, Vasbenter, and Watripon, the Avénement du Peuple by H. Coste, nearly all the other editors of the Avénement being in prison. About sixty members of the Left were there, and among others Edgar Quinet, Schoelcher, Madier de Montjau, Carnot, Noël Parfait, Pierre Lefranc, Bancel, de Flotte, Bruckner, Chaix, Cassal, Esquiros, Durand–Savoyat, Yvan, Carlos Forel, Etchegoyen, Labrousse, Barthélemy (Eure-et-Loire), Huguenin, Aubrey (du Nord), Malardier, Victor Chauffour, Belin, Renaud, Bac, Versigny, Sain, Joigneaux, Brives, Guilgot, Pelletier, Doutre, Gindrier, Arnauld (de l’Ariége), Raymond (de l’Isère), Brillier, Maigne, Sartin, Raynaud, Léon Vidal, Lafon, Lamargue, Bourzat, and General Rey.

All were standing. They were talking without order. Léopold Duras had just described the investment of the Café Bonvalet. Jules Favre and Baudin, seated at a little table between the two windows, were writing. Baudin had a copy of the Constitution open before him, and was copying Article 68.

When we entered there was silence, and they asked us, “Well, what news?”

Charamaule told them what had just taken place on the Boulevard du Temple, and the advice which he had thought right to give me. They approved his action.

“What is to be done?” was asked on every side. I began to speak.

“Let us go straight to the fact and to the point,” said I. “Louis Bonaparte is gaining ground, and we are losing ground, or rather, we should say, he has as yet everything, and we have as yet nothing. Charamaule and I have been obliged to separate ourselves from Colonel Forestier. I doubt if he will succeed. Louis Bonaparte is doing all he can to suppress us, we must no longer keep in the background. We must make our presence felt. We must fan this beginning of the flame of which we have seen the spark on the Boulevard du Temple. A proclamation must be made, no matter by whom it is printed, or how it is placarded, but it is absolutely necessary, and that immediately. Something brief, rapid, and energetic. No set phrases. Ten lines — an appeal to arms! We are the Law, and there are occasions when the Law should utter a war-cry. The Law, outlawing the traitor, is a great and terrible thing. Let us do it.”

They interrupted me with “Yes, that is right, a proclamation!”

“Dictate! dictate!”

“Dictate,” said Baudin to me, “I will write.”

I dictated:—

“TO THE PEOPLE.

“Louis Napoléon Bonaparte is a traitor.

“He has violated the Constitution.

“He is forsworn.

“He is an outlaw —”

They cried out to me on every side —

“That is right! Outlaw him.”

“Go on.”

I resumed the dictation. Baudin wrote —

“The Republican Representatives refer the People and the Army to Article
68 —”

They interrupted me: “Quote it in full.”

“No,” said I, “it would be too long. Something is needed which can be placarded on a card, stuck with a wafer, and which can be read in a minute. I will quote Article 110. It is short and contains the appeal to arms.”

I resumed —

“The Republican Representatives refer the People and the Army to Article
68 and to Article 110, which runs thus —‘The Constituent Assembly
confides the existing Constitution and the Laws which it consecrates to
the keeping and the patriotism of all Frenchmen.’

“The People henceforward and for ever in possession of universal
suffrages and who need no Prince for its restitution, will know how to
chastise the rebel.

“Let the People do its duty. The Republican Representatives are marching
at its head.

“Vive la République! To Arms!”

They applauded.

“Let us all sign,” said Pelletier.

“Let us try to find a printing-office without delay,” said Schoelcher, “and let the proclamation be posted up immediately.”

“Before nightfall — the days are short,” added Joigneaux.

“Immediately, immediately, several copies!” called out the Representatives.

Baudin, silent and rapid, had already made a second copy of the proclamation.

A young man, editor of the provincial Republican journal, came out of the crowd, and declared that, if they would give him a copy at once, before two hours should elapse the Proclamation should be posted at all the street corners in Paris.

I asked him —

“What is your name?”

He answered me —

“Millière.”

Millière. It is in this manner that this name made its first appearance in the gloomy days of our History. I can still see that pale young man, that eye at the same time piercing and half closed, that gentle and forbidding profile. Assassination and the Pantheon awaited him. He was too obscure to enter into the Temple, he was sufficiently deserving to die on its threshold. Baudin showed him the copy which he had just made.

Millière went up to him.

“You do not know me,” said he; “my name is Millière; but I know you, you are Baudin.”

Baudin held out his hand to him.

I was present at the handshaking between these two spectres.

Xavier Durrieu, who was editor of the Révolution made the same offer as Millière.

A dozen Representatives took their pens and sat down, some around a table, others with a sheet of paper on their knees, and called out to me —

“Dictate the Proclamation to us.”

I had dictated to Baudin, “Louis Napoléon Bonaparte is a traitor.” Jules Favre requested the erasure of the word Napoléon, that name of glory fatally powerful with the People and with the Army, and that there should be written, “Louis Bonaparte is a traitor.”

“You are right,” said I to him.

A discussion followed. Some wished to strike out the word “Prince.” But the Assembly was impatient. “Quick! quick!” they cried out. “We are in December, the days are short,” repeated Joigneaux.

Twelve copies were made at the same time in a few minutes. Schoelcher, Rey, Xavier Durrieu, and Millière each took one, and set out in search of a printing office.

As they went out a man whom I did not know, but who was greeted by several Representatives, entered and said, “Citizens, this house is marked. Troops are on the way to surround you. You have not a second to lose.”

Numerous voices were raised —

“Very well! Let them arrest us!”

“What does it matter to us?”

“Let them complete their crime.”

“Colleagues,” said I, “let us not allow ourselves to be arrested. After the struggle, as God pleases; but before the combat — No! It is from us that the people are awaiting the initiative. If we are taken, all is at an end. Our duty is to bring on the battle, our right is to cross swords with the coup d’état. It must not be allowed to capture us, it must seek us and not find us. We must deceive the arm which it stretches out against us, we must remain concealed from Bonaparte, we must harass him, weary him, astonish him, exhaust him, disappear and reappear unceasingly, change our hiding-place, and always fight him, be always before him, and never beneath his hand. Let us not leave the field. We have not numbers, let us have daring.”

They approved of this. “It is right,” said they, “but where shall we go?”

Labrousse said —

“Our former colleague of the Constituent Assembly, Beslay, offers us his house.”

“Where does he live?”

“No. 33, Rue de la Cérisaie, in the Marais.”

“Very well,” answered I, “let us separate. We will meet again in two hours at Beslay’s, No. 33, Rue de la Cérisaie.”

All left; one after another, and in different directions. I begged Charamaule to go to my house and wait for me there, and I walked out with Noël Parfait and Lafon.

We reached the then still uninhabited district which skirts the ramparts. As we came to the corner of the Rue Pigalle, we saw at a hundred paces from us, in the deserted streets which cross it, soldiers gliding all along the houses, bending their steps towards the Rue Blanche.

At three o’clock the members of the Left rejoined each other in the Rue de la Cérisaie. But the alarm had been given, and the inhabitants of these lonely streets stationed themselves at the windows to see the Representatives pass. The place of meeting, situated and hemmed in at the bottom of a back yard, was badly chosen in the event of being surrounded: all these disadvantages were at once perceived, and the meeting only lasted a few seconds. It was presided over by Joly; Xavier Durrieu and Jules Gouache, who were editors of the Révolution, also took part, as well as several Italian exiles, amongst others Colonel Carini and Montanelli, ex-Minister of the Grand Duke of Tuscany. I liked Montanelli, a gentle and dauntless spirit.

Madier de Montjau brought news from the outskirts. Colonel Forestier, without losing and without taking away hope, told them of the obstacles which he had encountered in his attempts to call together the 6th Legion. He pressed me to sign his appointment as Colonel, as well as Michel de Bourges; but Michel de Bourges was absent, and besides, neither Michel de Bourges nor I had yet at drat time the authority from the Left. Nevertheless, under this reservation I signed his appointment. The perplexities were becoming more and more numerous. The Proclamation was not yet printed, and the evening was closing in. Schoelcher explained the difficulties: all the printing offices closed and guarded; an order placarded that whoever should print an appeal to arms world be immediately shot; the workmen terrified; no money. A hat was sent round, and each threw into it what money he had about him. They collected in this manner a few hundred francs.

Xavier Durrieu, whose fiery courage never flagged for a single moment, reiterated that he would undertake the printing, and promised that by eight o’clock that evening there should be 40,000 copies of the Proclamation. Time pressed. They separated, after fixing as a rendezvous the premises of the Society of Cabinet-makers in the Rue de Charonne, at eight o’clock in the evening, so as to allow time for the situation to reveal itself. As we went out and crossed the Rue Beautreillis I saw Pierre Leroux coming up to me. He had taken no part in our meetings. He said to me —

“I believe this struggle to be useless. Although my point of view is different from yours, I am your friend. Beware. There is yet time to stop. You are entering into the catacombs. The catacombs are Death.”

“They are also Life,” answered I.

All the same, I thought with joy that my two sons were in prison, and that this gloomy duty of street fighting was imposed upon me alone.

There yet remained five hours until the time fixed for the rendezvous. I wished to go home, and once more embrace my wife and daughter before precipitating myself into that abyss of the “unknown” which was there, yawning and gloomy, and which several of us were about to enter, never to return.

Arnauld (de l’Ariége) gave me his arm. The two Italian exiles, Carini aril Montanelli, accompanied me.

Montanelli took my hands and said to me, “Right will conquer. You will conquer. Oh! that this time France may not be selfish as in 1848, and that she may deliver Italy.” I answered him, “She will deliver Europe.”

Those were our illusions at that moment, but this, however, does not prevent them from being our hopes to-day. Faith is thus constituted; shadows demonstrate to it the light.

There is a cabstand before the front gate of St. Paul. We went there. The Rue St. Antoine was alive with that indescribable uneasy swarming which precedes those strange battles of ideas against deeds which are called Revolutions. I seemed to catch, in this great working-class district, a glimpse of a gleam of light which, alas, died out speedily. The cabstand before St. Paul was deserted. The drivers had foreseen the possibility of barricades, and had fled.

Three miles separated Arnauld and myself from our houses. It was impossible to walk there through the middle of Paris, without being recognized at each step. Two passers-by extricated us from our difficulty. One of them said to the other, “The omnibuses are still running on the Boulevards.”

We profited by this information, and went to look for a Bastille omnibus. All four of us got in.

I entertained at heart, I repeat, wrongly or rightly, a bitter reproach for the opportunity lost during the morning. I said to myself that on critical days such moments come, but do not return. There are two theories of Revolution: to arouse the people, or to let them come of themselves. The first theory was mine, but, through force of discipline, I had obeyed the second. I reproached myself with this. I said to myself, “The People offered themselves, and we did not accept them. It is for us now not to offer ourselves, but to do more, to give ourselves.”

Meanwhile the omnibus had started. It was full. I had taken my place at the bottom on the left; Arnauld (de l’Ariége) sat next to me, Carini opposite, Montanelli next to Arnauld. We did not speak; Arnauld and myself silently exchanged that pressure of hands which is a means of exchanging thoughts.

As the omnibus proceeded towards the centre of Paris the crowd became denser on the Boulevard. As the omnibus entered into the cutting of the Porte St. Martin a regiment of heavy cavalry arrived in the opposite direction. In a few seconds this regiment passed by the side of us. They were cuirassiers. They filed by at a sharp trot and with drawn swords. The people leaned over from the height of the pavements to see them pass. Not a single cry. On the one side the people dejected, on the other the soldiers triumphant. All this stirred me.

Suddenly the regiment halted. I do not know what obstruction momentarily impeded its advance in this narrow cutting of the Boulevard in which we were hemmed in. By its halt it stopped the omnibus. There were the soldiers. We had them under our eyes, before us, at two paces distance, their horses touching the horses of our vehicle, these Frenchmen who had become Mamelukes, these citizen soldiers of the Great Republic transformed into supporters of the degraded Empire. From the place where I sat I almost touched them; I could no longer restrain myself.

I lowered the window of the omnibus. I put out my head, and, looking fixedly at the dense line of soldiers which faced me, I called out, “Down with Louis Bonaparte. Those who serve traitors are traitors!”

Those nearest to me turned their heads towards me and looked at me with a tipsy air; the others did not stir, and remained at “shoulder arms,” the peaks of their helmets over their eyes, their eyes fixed upon the ears of their horses.

In great affairs there is the immobility of statues; in petty mean affairs there is the immobility of puppets.

At the shout which I raised Arnauld turned sharply round. He also had lowered his window, and he was leaning half out of the omnibus, with his arms extended towards the soldiers, and he shouted, “Down with the traitors!”

To see him thus with his dauntless gesture, his handsome head, pale and calm, his fervent expression, his beard and his long chestnut hair, one seemed to behold the radiant and fulminating face of an angry Christ.

The example was contagious and electrical.

“Down with the traitors!” shouted Carini and Montanelli.

“Down with the Dictator! Down with the traitors!” repeated a gallant young man with whom we were not acquainted, and who was sitting next to Carini.

With the exception of this young man, the whole omnibus seemed seized with terror!

“Hold your tongues!” exclaimed these poor frightened people; “you will cause us all to be massacred.” One, still more terrified, lowered the window, and began to shout to the soldiers, “Long live Prince Napoléon! Long live the Emperor!”

There were five of us, and we overpowered this cry by our persistent protest, “Down with Louis Bonaparte! Down with the traitors!”

The soldiers listened in gloomy silence. A corporal turned with a threatening air towards us, and shook his sword. The crowd looked on in bewilderment.

What passed within me at that moment? I cannot tell! I was in a whirlwind. I had at the same time yielded to a calculation, finding the opportunity good, and to a burst of rage, finding the encounter insolent.

A woman cried out to us from the pavement, “You will get yourselves cut to pieces.” I vaguely imagined that some collision was about to ensue, and that, either from the crowd or from the Army, the spark would fly out. I hoped for a sword-cut from the soldiers or a shout of anger from the people. In short I had obeyed rather an instinct than an idea.

But nothing came of it, neither the sword-cut nor the shout of anger. The soldiers did not bestir themselves and the people maintained silence. Was it too late? Was it too soon?

The mysterious man of the Elysée had not foreseen the event of an insult to his name being thrown in the very face of the soldiers. The soldiers had no orders. They received them that evening. This was seen on the morrow.

In another moment the regiment broke into a gallop, and the omnibus resumed its journey. As the cuirassiers filed past us Arnauld (de l’Ariége), still leaning out of the vehicle, continued to shout in their ears, for as I have just said, their horses touched us, “Down with the Dictator! Down with the traitors!”

We alighted in the Rue Lafitte. Carini, Montanelli, and Arnauld left me, and I went on alone towards the Rue de la Tour d’Auvergne. Night was coming on. As I turned the corner of the street a man passed close by me. By the light of a street lamp I recognized a workman at a neighboring tannery, and he said to me in a low tone, and quickly, “Do not return home. The police surround your house.”

I went back again towards the Boulevard, through the streets laid out, but not then built, which make a Y under my windows behind my house. Not being able to embrace my wife and daughter, I thought over what I could do during the moments which remained to me. A remembrance came into my mind.

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