The History of a Crime, by Victor Hugo

Chapter xx.

The Burial of a Great Anniversary

Such was the first day. Let us look at it steadfastly. It deserves it. It is the anniversary of Austerlitz; the Nephew commemorates the Uncle. Austerlitz is the most brilliant battle of history; the Nephew set himself this problem — how to commit a baseness equal to this magnificence. He succeeded.

This first day, which will be followed by others, is already complete. Everything is there. It is the most terrible attempt at a thrust backwards that has ever been essayed. Never has such a crumbling of civilization been seen. All that formed the edifice is now in ruin; the soil is strewn with the fragments. In one night the inviolability of the Law, the Right of the Citizen, the Dignity of the Judge, and the Honor of the Soldier have disappeared. Terrible substitutions have taken place; there was the oath, there is pergury; there was the flag, there is a rag; there was the Army, there is a band of brigands; there was Justice, there is treason; there was a code of laws, there is the sabre; there was a Government, there is a crew of swindlers; there was France, there is a den of thieves. This called itself Society Saved.

It is the rescue of the traveller by the highwayman.

France was passing by, Bonaparte cried, “Stand and deliver!”

The hypocrisy which has preceded the Crime, equals in deformity the impudence which has followed it. The nation was trustful and calm. There was a sudden and cynical shock. History has recorded nothing equal to the Second of December. Here there was no glory, nothing but meanness. No deceptive picture. He could have declared himself honest; He declares himself infamous; nothing more simple. This day, almost unintelligible in its success, has proved that Politics possess their obscene side. Louis Bonaparte has shown himself unmasked.

Yesterday President of the Republic, to-day a scavenger. He has sworn, he still swears: but the tone has changed. The oath has become an imprecation. Yesterday he called himself a maiden, to-day he becomes a brazen woman, and laughs at his dupes. Picture to yourself Joan of Arc confessing herself to be Messalina. Such is the Second of December.

Women are mixed up in this treason. It is an outrage which savors both of the boudoir and of the galleys. There wafts across the fetidness of blood an undefined scent of patchouli. The accomplices of this act of brigandage are most agreeable men — Romieu, Morny. Getting into debt leads one to commit crimes.

Europe was astounded. It was a thunder bolt from a thief. It must be acknowledged that thunder can fall into bad hands, Palmerston, that traitor, approved of it. Old Metternich, a dreamer in his villa at Rennweg, shook his head. As to Soult, the man of Austerlitz after Napoleon, he did what he ought to do, on the very day of the Crime he died, Alas! and Austerlitz also.

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