22 JUNE 1878, Page 16


VICTOR HUGO'S " HISTORY OF A CRIME." * IT might seem a work of supererogation to review a book of which the ninety-eighth edition—and that far from the latest—lies before us ; yet its interest is so great and so permanent, not only for the Frenchman but for the Englishman, and for the practical poli- tician as well as for the student of history, that it well deserves notice in these columns. The two little volumes of the popular edition (for there is also one in octavo) look, outside and in, like one of the novels and romances for railway reading which we see at all the French stations. The headings of the pages, and the short sentences into which the pages are broken up, might make the reader think he was turning over the leaves of some sensational romance, if the eye did not catch names which we not only remember in past years, but are still reading in our daily papers, in the reports of the French Chamber or Senate. It is, indeed, a tragic romance, though a romance of real life. The Titanic imagination which we know in all Victor Hugo's romances is everywhere present here, but everywhere combined with the sad seriousness of the " Eye-witness," who can say,- " Qumque ipso miserrima vidi, Et quorum pars magna fui."

We have all the characteristic features of Victor Hugo's writing, which are in themselves generally so grand, though they are so near, and sometimes pass over, the borders of bombast, and so easily lend themselves to caricature and ridicule. With his wonted power, he " bodies forth " the plots of the Elysee ; the meetings and the resolutions of the Members of the Assembly, while they were again and again hunted down and carried off to prison, exile, or execution ; the bravery with which individuals printed and posted, at the peril of their lives, the decrees made at those meetings for the deposition of the usurper ; the fighting at the barricades ; the triumph of the conspirators ; and their overthrow twenty years afterwards at Sedan. And while he tells his own share in the conflict and the danger with modesty and without egotism, he makes his strong personality everywhere felt by the reader,—his sympathy with working-men ; his respect for the law, and for conscience as the light to action ; his tenderness for children ; his reluctance to shed blood, yet his readiness to lose his life in the good cause. Nor can we leave out, at the risk of exciting a smile, his French love of logic, even in the last place where one might have looked for it :-

" La bataille de Sedan est plus qu'une bataille qui so 'lyre ; c'ost an syllogismo qui s'aeheve : redoubtable prdmdditation du destin. Le destin no se hate jamais, mais arrive toujours. A son heure, le voila. Il laisse passer les amides, puis au moment oit l'on y songe le moins, ii apparait. Sedan, &est l'inattendu, fatal. De temps en temps, dans Ilistoire, is logique divine fait des sorties. Sedan est une de ces sorties."

This history of the coup cre'lat of December, 1851, was written (with the exception of the concluding chapters) immediately after the event and the author's escape to Belgium, though various circumstances prevented its publication till last autumn, when there seemed—nay, was—such danger that the " Crime" was about to be repeated by certain survivors of the actors and sufferers in the former one, united for the like evil purpose ; and there can be no question that this opportune publication of Victor lingo's account and denunciation of the former overthrow

• Histoire dun Crime. Diposition Tun Tdmoin. Par Victor Hugo. Paris: Calmann Levy. 1877-8.

The History of a Crime. The Testimony of an Eye-witness. By Victor Hugo. Translated by T. II. Joyce and Arthur Locker. In 4 vols. London: Sampson Low. 1878.

of French liberty was one important aid in preventing its recur- rence. This is his epigrammatic preface :- " Ce livre est plus qu'aetnel ; it est urgent. Je publie. V. H. Paris, ler Octobre, 1877."

The narrative is of the first days of December, 1851—the Lying-in-wait, the Struggle, the Massacre, and the Vie-

tory—follo wed by the Conclusion at Sedan. It opens with a description of the all but unanimous belief which men entertained of the good-faith of Louis Napoleon, and of the security of the Constitution, up to the very moment when the blow was struck. " Only a few of us in the Assembly had some doubts, and occasionally shook our heads, but we passed for fools." Then follow a series of vivid descriptions—like openings in the darkness made by successive flashes of lightning—of the events of the night of December 2nd. The soldiers were silently drawn out, and took possession of the Government printing establish- ment, with orders to shoot any man who left the works or opened a window, while they printed proclamations brought in from the Elysee, and of which the decrees for the dissolution of the Assembly, the appeals to the Army and the people, and the decree for convoking the electors, were entirely in the handwriting of the President. Each man worked between two gendarmes, and for farther precaution the" copy" was distributed in small pieces, that it might be the less easy for them to understand what they were about. In two hours the printing was done, and while the proclama- tions were placarded on the walls of Paris the troops occupied the palace of the Assembly, and police-agents arrested all the Generals and other leading members of the Assembly, treating them in many cases with insolence and even outrage. Others of the Assembly, after first attempting in vain to hold their ground in their own ball, rallied to the number of above three hundred, mostly of the Right or Conservative party, at the Mairie of the Tenth Arrondissement, and there decreed the deposition of Louis Napoleon for treason. But while they hesitated as to how they should attempt to enforce their decree, they were seized by the soldiery, and carried off to the prisons of Vincennes and Mazas, those who were consigned to the latter prison being treated with the indignities and the severities to which felons were subjected. Another portion of the Assembly, including the principal members of the Left, met—it is not explained whether from accident, purpose, or necessity—in more secluded places, as they could best elude- the police spies ; and they not only again decreed the deposition of the usurper, but succeeded, not without extreme difficulty, in getting their decrees printed and posted on the walls ; and then they took all the steps in their power to call on the people of Paris, in the name of the nation of which they were the repre- sentatives, to carry out the deposition by force. Some barricades were made, and for some hours a hard fight was carried on with the soldiers. But it was hardly possible to get either arms or am- munition, except in the most miserably insufficient quantities; and, above all, the men were wanting. The Assembly had become hateful to the working-men of Paris, from the unconcealed hos- tility of its great Conservative majority to all popular rights, including that of universal suffrage ; and only a few were able to- see that when the proclamations of Louis Napoleon now an- nounced that he had dissolved the Assembly in the interest of the people, and restored to them the suffrage, by which every man in France should declare his own wishes as to the Government, he was merely deluding them with a show of liberty, entirely without the reality.

But although, as Victor Hugo puts it, St. Antoine could not be effectually roused, St. Martin, the centre of the bourgeois, or middle-class, life, was gradually stirred. The officers and the men of the National Guard began to rally ; they brought out their muskets, while young students of medicine made powder; bold men printed, or lithographed, and posted the decrees of the remain- ing representatives ; more barricades were thrown up, the hopes of successful resistance in Paris till there was time for the country to assert itself increased :—" The tide rises, the tide rises !" said Edgar Quinet, as he pressed Hugo's hand ; and Jules Favre cried joyfully, "To-morrow we shall date our decrees from the Pan- theon !" In theElysee, meanwhile, there were gloom and depression. Louis Napoleon sat alone and motionless in his cabinet before the fire, while carriages, with the postillions in the saddle, were drawn up in the courtyard, ready for instant flight. But Saint-Arnaud had his orders. From mid-day to two o'clock of the 4th of December an awful calm lay on the great city, while the troops were silently massed at various points, and the crowd asked the meaning of the formation of a great sort of ambulance in the Faubourg Montmartre. At two o'clock there were five brigades

of artillery, cavalry, and infantry, to the number of 16,410 men, drawn up between the Rue de la Paix and the Faubourg Poisson- niere. The shops were open, the streets were crowded, and, but for a certain sense of anxiety which gradually overspread the curiosity with which the movements of the soldiers were at first regarded, the general appearance of the streets must have been much what we may now see there in these months, in which all the world is gathering to the Paris Exhibition. Suddenly the storm—of cannon, musketry, and sabres —burst upon the astonished and terrified people. Men, women, and children were slaughtered indiscriminately, with one or other occasionally picked out to show the marksman's skill. Cafes and shops which we all know, and of which Victor Hugo gives a long list, were sacked ; while their owners, men and women, were shot at their doors, or as they fled within them. The number killed in this massacre, which lasted two hours, was never known, though one of the colonels boasted that his own regiment had killed 2,500. At four o'clock all was over. The carriages in the courtyard of the Elysee were sent away. There remained only to-gather in the fruits of the victory by the " mixed commissions," which, with some brief form of trial, sent hundreds every day to execution, and still larger num- bers to slow death in Cayenne ; while those who could evade the police escaped, like Hugo himself, to Belgium or to England ; and the Archbishop of Paris intoned a Te Deum in Notre Dame.

If this story is most grave to us, what must it be to Frenchmen, under whose feet the embers still smoulder, and who only a few months since were in real danger of the fire breaking out again, to lay waste their country anew ? Many of the names of the patriots and the criminals which stand out in these pages were familiar to us in our newspapers last autumn, as we followed the progress of the great political struggle ; but the most interested of us can but dimly realise what that time must have been for the men themselves, Hugo, Dufaure, Gravy, Jules Fevre, and many others. Princes and dukes, with all their pro- fessions of devotion to constitutional liberty,—yet still, as always, not for their country nor against it but only for themselves— had banded with the old Bonapartist conspirators to destroy the young Republic,—by the Orleanist method of official corruption if possible, but if not, then by those of Cmsarism and violence. The former method was proved a failure by the elections of October 14th, but for the next two months the suspense was terrible ; while the conspirators still hoped that they could employ the army for their work by means of the instrument they had provided for that end, and of whom they thought themselves secure, because he had not ceased, when he became the chief of his nation, to hold and to declare that what he was pleased to call his conscience and his honour pledged him not to his country, but to the party whose intrigues had raised him to his post. Whether he shrank from carrying out their purposes at last, because he found that the army would not follow traitors again, or whether he was dominated by the master-spirit of Gambetta—the man whose fiery patriotism had saved the honour of France and her soldiers when all others despaired, and whose power of effacing, no less than of asserting, himself now enabled him silently to guide the counsels of the patriots in that supreme hour—this cannot be known till the whole secret history of those days is written. But the work was done, we hope not again to fail. And if this history of the great political crime of our generation is full of interest and of meaning to the country in which it was committed, it may not be without its uses to us, too, in a day when the doctrines of Cmsarism—of the government of the country by political adven- turers, with the support of the enfranchised but uneducated classes, a servile Parliament, and mercenary soldiers—are openly advocated in high places, and listened to without repugnance, perhaps even with approval, by the rich, the comfortable, and the selfish. We may be in no present danger—no one supposes we are—of a coup d'jtat, or a general massacre iu Regent Street and Pall Mall ; but he must be an ingrained Philistine and Pharisee who can think that these things are not as possible—as far as our own virtues and merits are our defence—in England as in France.