The History of a Crime, by Victor Hugo

Chapter xviii.

Page Written at Brussels

Well then, yes, I will kick open the door of this Palace, and I will enter with you, History! I will seize by the collar all the perpetrators, continually caught red-handed in the commission of all these outrages! I will suddenly illuminate this cavern of night with the broad daylight of truth!

Yes, I will bring in the daylight! I will tear down the curtain, I will open the window, I will show to every eye such as it really is, infamous, horrible, wealthy, triumphant, joyous, gilded, besmirched — this Elysée! this Court! this group! this heap! call it what you will! this galley-crew! where writhe and crawl, and pair and breed every baseness, every indignity, every abomination: filibusters, buccaneers, swearers of oaths, Signers of the Cross, spies, swindlers, butchers, executioners, from the brigand who vends his sword, to the Jesuit who sells his God second-hand! This sink where Baroche elbows Teste! where each brings his own nastiness! Magnan his epaulets; Montalembert his religion, Dupin his person!

And above all the innermost circle, the Holy of Holies, the private Council, the smug den where they drink — where they eat — where they laugh — where they sleep — where they play — where they cheat — where they call Highnesses “Thou,”— where they wallow! Oh! what ignominies! It is them! It is there! Dishonor, baseness, shame, and opprobrium are there! Oh History! A hot iron for all these faces.

It is there that they amuse themselves, and that they jest, and that they banter, and that they make sport of France! It is there that they pocket hap-hazard, amid great shouts of laughter, the millions of louis and the millions of votes! See them, look at them! They have treated the Law like a girl, they are content! Right is slaughtered, Liberty is gagged, the flag is dishonored, the people are under their feet. They are happy! And who are they? What are these men? Europe knows not. One fine morning it saw them come out of a crime. Nothing more. A parcel of rascals who vainly tried to become celebrated, and who have remained anonymous. Look! they are all there! See them, I tell you! Look at them, I tell you! Recognize them if you can. Of what sex are they? To what species do they belong? Who is this one? Is he a writer? No; he is a dog. He gobbles human flesh. And that one? Is he a dog? No, he is a courtier — he has blood on his paw.

New men, that is what they term them. New, in truth! Unlooked-for, strange, unprecedented, monstrous! Perjury, iniquity, robbery, assassination, erected into ministerial departments, swindling applied to universal suffrage, government under false pretences, duty called crime, crime called duty, cynicism laughing in the midst of atrocity — it is of all this that their newness is compounded.

Now, all is well, they have succeeded, they have a fair wind, they enjoy themselves to the full. They have cheated France, they are dividing the spoil. France is a bag, and they put their hand in it. Rummage, for Heaven’s sake! Take, while you are there; help yourselves, draw out, plunder, steal! One wants money, another wants situations, another wants a decorative collar round his neck, another a plume in his hat, another embroidery on his sleeve, another women, another power; another news for the Bourse, another a railway, another wine. I should think, indeed, that they are well satisfied. Picture to yourself a poor devil who, three years ago, borrowed ten sous of his porter, and who to-day, leaning voluptuously on the Moniteur, has only to sign a decree to take a million. To make themselves perfectly happy, to be able to devour the finances of the State, to live at the expense of the Treasury like a son of the family, this is what is called their policy. Their ambition has a true name, it is gluttony.

They ambitious? Nonsense! They are gluttons. To govern is to gamble. This does not prevent betrayal. On the contrary, they spy upon each other, they betray each other. The little traitors betray the great traitors. Pietri looks askance at Maupas, and Maupas at Carlier. They all lie in the same reeking sewer! They have achieved the coup d’état in common. That is all. Moreover they feel sure of nothing, neither of glances, nor of smiles, nor of hidden thoughts, nor of men, nor of women, nor of the lacquey, nor of the prince, nor of words of honor, nor of birth certificates. Each feels himself fraudulent, and knows himself suspected. Each has his secret aims. Each alone knows why he has done this. Not one utters a word about his crime, and no one bears the name of his father. Ah! may God grant me life, and may Jesus pardon me, I will raise a gibbet a hundred yards high, I will take hammer and nails, and I will crucify this Beauharnais called Bonaparte, between this Leroy called Saint–Arnoud, and this Fialin called Persigny!

And I would drag you there also, all of you accomplices! This Morny, this Romieu, this Fould, the Jew senator, this Delangle, who bears on his back this placard: JUSTICE! and this Troplong, this judicial glorifier of the violation of the laws, this lawyer apologist of the coup d’état, this magistrate flatterer of perjury, this judge panegyrist of murder, who will go down to posterity with a sponge filled with mud and with blood in his hand.

I begin the battle therefore. With whom? With the present ruler of Europe. It is right that this spectacle should be given to the world. Louis Bonaparte is the success, is the intoxicated triumph, is the gay and ferocious despotism, opening out under the victory, he is the mad fulness of power, seeking limits and finding none, neither in things nor in men; Louis Bonaparte holds France, Urbem Roman habit; and whoever holds France holds the world; he is master of the votes, master of the consciences, master of the people; he nominates his successor, reigns forever over future electoral scrutinies, disposes of eternity, and places futurity in an envelope; his Senate, his Legislative Body, his Council of State, with heads lowered and mingled confusedly behind him, lick his feet; he drags along in a leash the bishops and cardinals; he tramples on the justice which curses him, and on the judges who adore him, thirty correspondents inform the Continent that he has frowned, and every electric telegraph vibrates if he raises his little finger; around him is heard the rustling of sabres, and the drums beat the salute; he sits under the shadow of the eagle in the midst of bayonets and of citadels, the free nations tremble and hide their liberties for fear that he should steal them, the great American Republic herself falters in his presence, and dares not withdraw her Ambassador from him; the kings, surrounded by their armies, look at him smilingly, with their hearts full of fear. Where will he begin? With Belgium? With Switzerland? With Piedmont? Europe expects to be overrun. He is capable of all, and he dreams of all.

Well, then! Before this master, this triumpher, this conqueror, this dictator, this Emperor, this all-powerful, there rises a solitary man, a wanderer, despoiled, ruined, prostrate, proscribed, and attacks him. Louis Napoleon has ten thousand cannons, and five hundred thousand soldiers; the writer has his pen and his ink-stand. The writer is nothing, he is a grain of dust, he is a shadow, he is an exile without a refuge, he is a vagrant without a passport, but he has by his side and fighting with him two powers, Right, which is invincible, and Truth, which is immortal.

Assuredly, for this struggle to the death, for this formidable duel, Providence could have chosen a more illustrious champion, a grander athlete. But what matter men, there, where it is the idea with combats! Such as it is, it is good, let us repeat, that this spectacle should be given to the world. What is this in truth? It is intellect, an atom which resists strength — a colossus.

I have only one stone in my sling, but that stone is a good one; that stone is justice.

I attack Louis Bonaparte at this hour, when he is erect; at this hour, when he is master. He is in his zenith. So much the better; it is that which suits me.

Yes, I attack Louis Bonaparte. I attack him before the world; I attack him in the presence of God and men; I attack him resolutely, desperately; for the love of the people and of France. He is about to be Emperor, let it be so. Let there be at least one brow which resists. Let Louis Bonaparte know that an Empire may be taken, but that a Conscience cannot be taken.

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