The History of a Crime, by Victor Hugo

Chapter viii.

The Barricade of the Rue Thevenot

Georges Biscarrat was the man who had given the signal for the looting in the Rue de l’Echelle.

I had known Georges Biscarrat ever since June, 1848. He had taken part in that disastrous insurrection. I had had an opportunity of being useful to him. He had been captured, and was kneeling before the firing-party; I interfered, and I saved his life, together with that of some others, M., D., D., B., and that brave-hearted architect Rolland, who when an exile, later on, so ably restored the Brussels Palace of Justice.

This took place on the 24th June, 1848, in the underground floor of No. 93, Boulevard Beaumarchais, a house then in course of construction.

Georges Biscarrat became attached to me. It appeared that he was the nephew of one of the oldest and best friends of my childhood, Félix Biscarrat, who died in 1828. Georges Biscarrat came to see me from time to time, and on occasions he asked my advice or gave me information.

Wishing to preserve him from evil influences, I had given him, and he had accepted, this guiding maxim, “No insurrection except for Duty and for Right.”

What was this hooting in the Rue de l’Echelle? Let us relate the incident.

On the 2d of December, Bonaparte had made an attempt to go out. He had ventured to go and look at Paris. Paris does not like being looked at by certain eyes; it considers it an insult, and it resents an insult more than a wound. It submits to assassination, but not to the leering gaze of the assassin. It took offence at Louis Bonaparte.

At nine o’clock in the morning, at the moment when the Courbevoie garrison was descending upon Paris, the placards of the coup d’état being still fresh upon the walls, Louis Bonaparte had left the Elysée, had crossed the Place de la Concorde, the Garden of the Tuileries, and the railed courtyard of the Carrousel, and had been seen to go out, by the gate of the Rue de l’Echelle. A crowd assembled at once. Louis Bonaparte was in a general’s uniform; his uncle, the ex-King Jérôme, accompanied him, together with Flahaut, who kept in the near. Jérôme wore the full uniform of a Marshal of France, with a hat with a white feather; Louis Bonaparte’s horse was a head before Jérôme’s horse. Louis Bonaparte was gloomy, Jérôme attentive, Flahaut beaming. Flahaut had his hat on one side. There was a strong escort of Lancers. Edgar Ney followed. Bonaparte intended to go as far as the Hôtel de Ville. Georges Biscarrat was there. The street was unpaved, the road was being macadamized; he mounted on a heap of stones, and shouted, “Down with the Dictator! Down with the Praetorians!” The soldiers looked at him with bewilderment, and the crowd with astonishment. Georges Biscarrat (he told me so himself) felt that this cry was too erudite, and that it would not be understood, so he shouted, “Down with Bonaparte! Down with the Lancers!”

The effect of this shout was electrical. “Down with Bonaparte! Down with the Lancers!” cried the people, and the whole street became stormy and turbulent. “Down with Bonaparte!” The outcry resembled the beginning of an execution; Bonaparte made a sudden movement to the right, turned back, and re-entered the courtyard of the Louvre.

Georges Biscarrat felt it necessary to complete his shout by a barricade.

He said to the bookseller, Benoist Mouilhe, who had just opened his shop, “Shouting is good, action is better.” He returned to his house in the Rue du Vert Bois, put on a blouse and a workman’s cap, and went down into the dark streets. Before the end of the day he had made arrangements with four associations — the gas-fitters, the last-makers, the shawl-makers, and the hatters.

In this manner he spent the day of the 2d of December.

The day of the 3d was occupied in goings and comings “almost useless.” So Biscarrat told Versigny, and he added, “However I have succeeded in this much, that the placards of the coup d’état have been everywhere torn down, so much so that in order to render the tearing down more difficult the police have ultimately posted them in the public conveniences — their proper place.”

On Thursday, the 4th, early in the morning, Georges Biscarrat went to Ledouble’s restaurant, where four Representatives of the People usually took their meals, Brives, Bertlhelon, Antoine Bard, and Viguier, nicknamed “Father Viguier.” All four were there. Viguier related what we had done on the preceding evening, and shared my opinion that the closing catastrophe should be hurried on, that the Crime should be precipitated into the abyss which befitted it. Biscarrat came in. The Representatives did not know hire, and stared at him. “Who are you?” asked one of them. Before he could answer, Dr. Petit entered, unfolded a paper, and said —

“Does any one know Victor Hugo’s handwriting?”

“I do,” said Biscarrat. He looked at the paper. It was my proclamation to the army. “This must be printed,” said Petit. “I will undertake it,” said Biscarrat. Antoine Bard asked him, “Do you know Victor Hugo?” “He saved my life,” answered Biscarrat. The Representatives shook hands with him.

Guilgot arrived. Then Versigny. Versigny knew Biscarrat. He had seen him at my house. Versigny said, “Take care what you do. There is a man outside the door.” “It is a shawl-maker,” said Biscarrat. “He has come with me. He is following me.” “But,” resumed Versigny, “he is wearing a blouse, beneath which he has a handkerchief. He seems to be hiding this, and he has something in the handkerchief.”

“Sugar-plums,” said Biscarrat.

They were cartridges.

Versigny and Biscarrat went to the office of the Siècle; at the Siècle thirty workmen, at the risk of being shot, offered to print my Proclamation. Biscarrat left it with them, and said to Versigny, “Now I want my barricade.”

The shawl-maker walked behind them. Versigny and Biscarrat turned their steps towards the top of the Saint Denis quarter. When they drew near to she Porte Saint Denis they heard the hum of many voices. Biscarrat laughed and said to Versigny, “Saint Denis is growing angry, matters are improving.” Biscarrat recruited forty combatants on the way, amongst whom was Moulin, head of the association of leather-dressers. Chapuis, sergeant-major of the National Guard, brought them four muskets and ten swords. “Do you know where there are any more?” asked Biscarrat. “Yes, at the Saint Sauveur Baths.” They went there, and found forty muskets. They gave them swords and cartridge-pouches. Gentlemen well dressed, brought tin boxes containing powder and balls. Women, brave and light-hearted, manufactured cartridges. At the first door adjoining the Rue du Hasard–Saint-Sauveur they requisitioned iron bars and hammers from a large courtyard belonging to a locksmith. Having the arms, they had the men. They speedily numbered a hundred. They began to tear up the pavements. It was half-past ten. “Quick! quick!” cried Georges Biscarrat, “the barricade of my dreams!” It was in the Rue Thévenot. The barrier was constructed high and formidable. To abridge. At eleven o’clock Georges Biscarrat had completed his barricade. At noon he was killed there.

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