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The Recollections of Alexis de Tocqueville By Alexis de Tocqueville Characters: 24924

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


THE DAYS OF JUNE-(continued).

The porter of the house in which we lived in the Rue de la Madeleine was a man of very bad reputation in the neighbourhood, an old soldier, not quite in his right mind, a drunkard, and a great good-for-nothing, who spent at the wine-shop all the time which he did not employ in beating his wife. This man might be said to be a Socialist by birth, or rather by temperament.

The early successes of the insurrection had brought him to a state of exaltation, and on the morning of the day of which I speak he visited all the wine-shops around, and among other mischievous remarks of which he delivered himself, he said that he would kill me when I came home in the evening, if I came in at all. He even displayed a large knife which he intended to use for the purpose. A poor woman who heard him ran in great alarm to tell Madame de Tocqueville; and she, before leaving Paris, sent me a note in which, after telling me of the facts, she begged me not to come in that night, but to go to my father's house, which was close by, he being away. This I determined to do; but when I left the Assembly at midnight, I had not the energy to carry out my intention. I was worn out with fatigue, and I did not know whether I should find a bed prepared if I slept out. Besides, I had little faith in the performance of murders proclaimed beforehand; and also I was under the influence of the sort of listlessness that follows upon any prolonged excitement. I accordingly went and knocked at my door, only taking the precaution to load the pistols which, in those unhappy days, it was common to carry. My man opened the door, I entered, and while he was carefully pushing the bolts behind me, I asked him if all the tenants had come home. He replied drily that they had all left Paris that morning, and that we two were alone in the house. I should have preferred another kind of tête-à-tête, but it was too late to go back; I therefore looked him straight in the eyes and told him to walk in front and show a light.

He stopped at a gate that led to the court-yard, and told me that he heard a curious noise in the stables which alarmed him, begging me to go with him to see what it was. As he spoke, he turned towards the stables. All this began to seem very suspicious to me, but I thought that, as I had gone so far, it was better to go on. I accordingly followed him, carefully watching his movements, and making up my mind to kill him like a dog at the first sign of treachery. As a matter of fact, we did hear a very strange noise. It resembled the dull running of water or the distant rumble of a carriage, although it obviously came from somewhere quite near. I never learnt what it was; though it was true I did not spend much time in trying to discover. I soon returned to the house and made my companion bring me to my threshold, keeping my eyes on him the whole time. I told him to open my door, and so soon as he had done so, I took the candle from his hand and went in. It was not until I was almost out of his sight that he brought himself to take off his hat and bow to me. Had the man really intended to kill me, and seeing me on my guard, with both hands in my pockets, did he reflect that I was better armed than he, and that he would be well advised to abandon his design? I thought at the time that the latter had never been very seriously intended, and I think so still. In times of revolution, people boast almost as much about the imaginary crimes they propose to commit as in ordinary times they do of the good intentions they pretend to entertain. I have always believed that this wretch would only have become dangerous if the fortunes of the fight had seemed to turn against us; but they leant, on the contrary, to our side, although they were still undecided; and this was sufficient to assure my safety.

At dawn I heard some one in my room, and woke with a start: it was my man-servant, who had let himself in with a private key of the apartment, which he carried. The brave lad had just left the bivouac (I had supplied him at his request with a National Guard's uniform and a good gun), and he came to know if I had come home and if his services were required. This one was certainly not a Socialist, either in theory or temperament. He was not even tainted in the slightest degree with the most general malady of the age, restlessness of mind, and even in other times than ours it would have been difficult to find a man more contented with his position and less sullen at his lot. Always very much satisfied with himself, and tolerably satisfied with others, he generally desired only that which was within his reach, and he generally attained, or thought he attained, all that he desired; thus unwittingly following the precepts which philosophers teach and never observe, and enjoying by the gift of Nature that happy equilibrium between faculty and desire which alone gives the happiness which philosophy promises us.

"Well, Eugène," I said, when I saw him, "how are affairs going on?"

"Very well, sir, perfectly well!"

"What do you mean by very well? I can still hear the sound of cannon!"

"Yes, they are still fighting," he replied, "but every one says it will end all right."

With that he took off his uniform, cleaned my boots, brushed my clothes, and putting on his uniform again:

"If you don't require me any more, sir," said he, "and if you will permit me, I will go back to the fighting."

He pursued this two-fold calling during four days and four nights, as simply as I am writing it down; and I experienced a sort of reposeful feeling, during these days filled with turmoil and hate, when I looked at the young man's peaceful and contented face.

Before going to the Assembly, where I did not think there would be any important measures to take, I resolved to make my way to the places where the fighting was still going on, and where I heard the sound of cannon. It was not that I was longing "to go and fight a bit," like Goudchaux, but I wanted to judge for myself as to the state of things; for, in my complete ignorance of war, I could not understand what made the struggle last so long. Besides, shall I confess it, a keen curiosity was piercing through all the feelings that filled my mind, and from time to time dominated them. I went along a great portion of the boulevard without seeing any traces of the battle, but there were plenty just beyond the Porte Saint-Martin; one stumbled over the débris left behind by the retreating insurrection: broken windows, doors smashed in, houses spotted by bullets or pierced by cannon-balls, trees cut down, heaped-up paving-stones, straw mixed with blood and mud. Such were these melancholy vestiges.

I thus reached the Chateau-d'Eau, around which were massed a number of troops of different sorts. At the foot of the fountain was a piece of cannon which was being discharged down the Rue Samson. I thought at first that the insurgents were replying with cannon on their side, but I ended by seeing that I was deceived by an echo which repeated with a terrible crash the sound of our own gun. I have never heard anything like it; one might have thought one's self in the midst of a great battle. As a matter of fact, the insurgents were only replying with an infrequent but deadly musketry fire.

It was a strange combat. The Rue Samson, as we know, is not a very long one; at the end runs the Canal Saint-Martin, and behind the canal is a large house facing the street. The street was absolutely deserted; there was no barricade in sight, and the gun seemed to be firing at a target; only from time to time a whiff of smoke issued from a few windows, and proclaimed the presence of an invisible enemy. Our sharp-shooters, posted along the walls, aimed at the windows from which they saw the shots fired. Lamoricière, mounted on a tall horse in full view of the enemy, gave his commands amid the whirl of bullets. I thought he was more excited and talkative than I had imagined a general ought to be in such a juncture; he talked, shouted in a hoarse voice, gesticulated in a sort of rage. It was easy to see by the clearness of his thoughts and expressions that amid this apparent disorder he lost none of his presence of mind; but his manner of commanding might have caused others to lose theirs, and I confess I should have admired his courage more if he had kept more quiet.

This conflict, in which one saw nobody before him, this firing, which seemed to be aimed only at the walls, surprised me strangely. I should never have pictured war to myself under this aspect. As the boulevard seemed clear beyond the Chateau-d'Eau, I was unable to understand why our columns did not pass further, nor why, if we wanted first to seize the large house facing the street, we did not capture it at a run, instead of remaining so long exposed to the deadly fire issuing from it. Yet nothing was more easily explained: the boulevard, which I thought clear from the Chateau-d'Eau onwards, was not so; beyond the bend which it makes at this place, it was bristling with barricades, all the way to the Bastille. Before attacking the barricades, we wanted to become masters of the streets we left behind us, and especially to capture the house facing the street, which, commanding the boulevard as it did, would have impeded our communications. Finally, we did not take the house by assault, because we were separated from it by the canal, which I could not see from the boulevard. We confined ourselves, therefore, to efforts to destroy it by cannon-shots, or at least to render it untenable. This took a long time to accomplish, and after being astonished in the morning that the fighting had not finished, I now asked myself how at this rate it could ever finish. For what I was witnessing at the Chateau-d'Eau was at the same time being repeated in other forms in a hundred different parts of Paris.

As the insurgents had no artillery, the conflict did not possess the horrible aspect which it must have when the battle-field is ploughed by cannon balls. The men who were struck down before me seemed transfixed by an invisible shaft: they staggered and fell without one's seeing at first anything but a little hole made in their clothes. In the cases of this kind which I witnessed, I was struck less by the sight of physical pain than by the picture of moral anguish. It was indeed a strange and frightful thing to see the sudden change of features, the quick extinction of the light in the eyes in the terror of death.

After a certain period, I saw Lamoricière's horse sink to the ground, shot by a bullet; it was the third horse the General had had killed under him since the day before yesterday. He sprang lightly to the ground, and continued bellowing his raging instructions.

I noticed that on our side the least eager were the soldiers of the Line. They were weakened and, as it were, dulled by the remembrance of February, and did not yet seem quite certain that they would not be told the next day that they had done wrong. The liveliest were undoubtedly the Gardes Mobiles of whom we had felt so uncertain; and, in spite of the event, I maintain that we were right, at the time; for it wanted but little for them to decide against us instead of taking our side. Until the end, they plainly showed that it was the fighting they loved rather than the cause for which they fought.

All these troops were raw and very subject to panic: I myself was a judge and almost a victim of this. At a street corner close to the Chateau-d'Eau was a large house in process of building. Some insurgents, who doubtless entered from behind across the court-yards, had taken up their position there, unknown to us; suddenly they appeared on the roof, and fired a great volley at the troops who filled the boulevard, and who did not expect to find the enemy posted so close at hand. The sound of their muskets reverberating with a great crash against the opposite houses gave reason to dread that a surprise of the same kind was taking place on that side. Immediately the most incredible confusion prevailed in our column: artillery, cavalry, and infantry were mingled in a moment, the soldiers fired in every direction, without knowing what they were doing, and tumultuously fell back sixty paces. This retreat was so disorderly and so impetuous that I was thrown against the wall of the houses facing the Rue du F

aubourg-du-Temple, knocked down by the cavalry, and so hard pressed that I left my hat on the field, and very nearly left my body there. It was certainly the most serious danger I ran during the days of June. This made me think that it is not all heroism in the game of war. I have no doubt but that accidents of this kind often happen to the very best troops; no one boasts about them, and they are not mentioned in the despatches.

It was now that Lamoricière became sublime. He had till then kept his sword in the scabbard: he now drew it, and ran up to his soldiers, his features distorted with the most magnificent rage; he stopped them with his voice, seized them with his hands, even struck them with the pummel of his sword, turned them, brought them back, and, placing himself at their head, forced them to pass at the trot through the fire in the Rue du Faubourg-du-Temple in order to take the house from which the firing had come. This was done in a moment, and without striking a blow: the enemy had disappeared.

The combat resumed its dull aspect and lasted some time longer, until the enemy's fire was at length extinguished, and the street occupied. Before commencing the next operation, there was a moment's pause: Lamoricière went to his head-quarters, a wine-shop on the boulevard near the Porte Saint-Martin, and I was at last able to consult him on the state of affairs.

"How long do you think," I asked, "that all this will last?"

"Why, how can I tell?" he replied. "That depends on the enemy, not on us."

He then showed me on the map all the streets we had already captured and were occupying, and all those we had still to take, adding, "If the insurgents choose to defend themselves on the ground they still hold as they have done on that which we have won from them, we may still have a week's fighting before us, and our loss will be enormous, for we lose more than they do: the first side to lose its moral courage will be the first to be beaten."

I next reproached him with exposing himself so rashly, and, as I thought, so uselessly.

"What will you have me do?" said he. "Tell Cavaignac to send generals able and willing to second me, and I will keep more in the background; but you always have to expose yourself when you have only yourself to rely on."

M. Thiers then came up, threw himself on Lamoricière's neck, and told him he was a hero. I could not help smiling at this effusion, for there was no love lost between them: but a great danger is like wine, it makes men affectionate.

I left Lamoricière in M. Thiers' arms, and returned to the Assembly: it was growing late, and besides, I know no greater fool than the man who gets his head broken in battle out of curiosity.

The rest of the day was spent as the day before: the same anxiety in the Assembly, the same feverish inaction, the same firmness. Volunteers continued to enter Paris; every moment we were told of some tragic event or illustrious death. These pieces of news saddened, but animated and fortified, the Assembly. Any member who ventured to propose to enter into negociations with the insurgents was met with yells of rage.

In the evening I decided to go myself to the H?tel de Ville, in order there to obtain more certain news of the results of the day. The insurrection, after alarming me by its extreme violence, now alarmed me by its long duration. For who could foresee the effect which the sight of so long and uncertain a conflict might produce in some parts of France, and especially in the great manufacturing towns, such as Lyons? As I went along the Quai de la Ferraille, I met some National Guards from my neighbourhood, carrying on litters several of their comrades and two of their officers wounded. I observed, in talking with them, with what terrible rapidity, even in so civilized a century as our own, the most peaceful minds enter, as it were, into the spirit of civil war, and how quick they are, in these unhappy times, to acquire a taste for violence and a contempt for human life. The men with whom I was talking were peaceful, sober artisans, whose gentle and somewhat sluggish natures were still further removed from cruelty than from heroism. Yet they dreamt of nothing but massacre and destruction. They complained that they were not allowed to use bombs, or to sap and mine the streets held by the insurgents, and they were determined to show no more quarter; already that morning I had almost seen a poor devil shot before my eyes on the boulevards, who had been arrested without arms in his hands, but whose mouth and hands were blackened by a substance which they supposed to be, and which no doubt was, powder. I did all I could to calm these rabid sheep. I promised them that we should take terrible measures the next day. Lamoricière, in fact, had told me that morning that he had sent for shells to hurl behind the barricades; and I knew that a regiment of sappers was expected from Douai, to pierce the walls and blow up the besieged houses with petards. I added that they must not shoot any of their prisoners, but that they should kill then and there anyone who made as though to defend himself. I left my men a little more contented, and, continuing my road, I could not help examining myself and feeling surprised at the nature of the arguments I had used, and the promptness with which, in two days, I had become familiarized with those ideas of inexorable destruction which were naturally so foreign to my character.

As I passed in front of the little streets at the entrance to which, two days before, I had seen such neat and solid barricades being built, I noticed that the cannon had considerably upset those fine works, although some traces remained.

I was received by Marrast, the Mayor of Paris. He told me that the H?tel de Ville was clear for the present, but that the insurgents might try in the night to recapture the streets from which we had driven them. I found him less tranquil than his bulletins. He took me to a room in which they had laid Bedeau, who was dangerously wounded on the first day. This post at the H?tel de Ville was a very fatal one for the generals who commanded there. Bedeau almost lost his life. Duvivier and Négrier, who succeeded him, were killed. Bedeau believed he was but slightly hurt, and thought only of the situation of affairs: nevertheless, his activity of mind struck me as ill-omened, and alarmed me.

The night was well advanced when I left the H?tel de Ville to go to the Assembly. I was offered an escort, which I refused, not thinking I should require it; but I regretted it more than once on the road. In order to prevent the insurgent districts from receiving reinforcements, provisions, or communications from the other parts of the town, in which there were so many men prepared to embrace the same cause, it had very properly been resolved absolutely to prohibit circulation in any of the streets. Everyone was stopped who left his house without a pass or an escort. I was constantly stopped on my way and made to show my medal. I was aimed at more than ten times by those inexperienced sentries, who spoke every imaginable brogue; for Paris was filled with provincials, who had come from every part of the country, many of them for the first time.

When I arrived, the sitting was over, but the Palace was still in a great state of excitement. A rumour had got abroad that the workmen of the Gros-Caillou were about to take advantage of the darkness to seize upon the Palace itself. Thus the Assembly, which, after three days' fighting, had carried the conflict into the heart of the districts occupied by its enemies, was trembling for its own quarters. The rumour was void of foundation; but nothing could better show the character of this war, in which the enemy might always be one's own neighbour, and in which one was never certain of not having his house sacked while gaining a victory at a distance. In order to secure the Palace against all surprise, barricades were hurriedly erected at the entrance to all the streets leading up to it. When I saw that there was only a question of a false rumour, I went home to bed.

I shall say no more of the June combats. The recollections of the two last days merge into and are lost in those of the first. As is known, the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, the last citadel of the civil war, did not lay down its arms until the Monday-that is to say, on the fourth day after the commencement of the conflict; and it was not until the morning of that day that the volunteers from la Manche were able to reach Paris. They had hurried as fast as possible, but they had come more than eighty leagues across a country in which there were no railways. They were fifteen hundred in number. I was touched at recognizing among them many landlords, lawyers, doctors and farmers who were my friends and neighbours. Almost all the old nobility of the country had taken up arms on this occasion and formed part of the column. It was the same over almost the whole of France. From the petty squire squatting in his den in the country to the useless, elegant sons of the great houses-all had at that moment remembered that they had once formed part of a warlike and governing class, and on every side they gave the example of vigour and resolution: so great is the vitality of those old bodies of aristocracy. They retain traces of themselves even when they appear to be reduced to dust, and spring up time after time from the shades of death before sinking back for ever.

It was in the midst of the days of June that the death occurred of a man who perhaps of all men in our day best preserved the spirit of the old races: M. de Chateaubriand, with whom I was connected by so many family ties and childish recollections. He had long since fallen into a sort of speechless stupor, which made one sometimes believe that his intelligence was extinguished. Nevertheless, while in this condition, he heard a rumour of the Revolution of February, and desired to be told what was happening. They informed him that Louis-Philippe's government had been overthrown. He said, "Well done!" and nothing more. Four months later, the din of the days of June reached his ears, and again he asked what that noise was. They answered that people were fighting in Paris, and that it was the sound of cannon. Thereupon he made vain efforts to rise, saying, "I want to go to it," and was then silent, this time for ever; for he died the next day.

Such were the days of June, necessary and disastrous days. They did not extinguish revolutionary ardour in France, but they put a stop, at least for a time, to what may be called the work appertaining to the Revolution of February. They delivered the nation from the tyranny of the Paris workmen and restored it to possession of itself.

Socialistic theories continued to penetrate into the minds of the people in the shape of envious and greedy desires, and to sow the seed of future revolutions; but the socialist party itself was beaten and powerless. The Montagnards, who did not belong to it, felt that they were irrevocably affected by the blow that had struck it. The moderate Republicans themselves did not fail to be alarmed lest this victory had led them to a slope which might precipitate them from the Republic, and they made an immediate effort to stop their descent, but in vain. Personally I detested the Mountain, and was indifferent to the Republic; but I adored Liberty, and I conceived great apprehensions for it immediately after these days. I at once looked upon the June fighting as a necessary crisis, after which, however, the temper of the nation would undergo a certain change. The love of independence was to be followed by a dread of, and perhaps a distaste for, free institutions; after such an abuse of liberty a return of this sort was inevitable. This retrograde movement began, in fact, on the 27th of June. At first very slow and invisible, as it were, to the naked eye, it grew swifter, impetuous, irresistible. Where will it stop? I do not know. I believe we shall have great difficulty in not rolling far beyond the point we had reached before February, and I foresee that all of us, Socialists, Montagnards and Liberal Republicans, will fall into common discredit until the private recollections of the Revolution of 1848 are removed and effaced, and the general spirit of the times shall resume its empire.

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