The insurrection of June presented peculiar features from the outset.* It suddenly manifested itself to terrified society in monstrous and unknown forms.
* At the end of June, four months after the proclamation of the Republic, regular work had come to a standstill and the useless workshops known as the "national workshops" had been abolished by the National Assembly. Then the widespread distress prevailing caused the outbreak of one of the most formidable insurrections recorded in history. The power at that time was in the hands of an Executive Committee of five members, Lamartine, Arago, Ledru Rollin, Garnier-Pages and Marie. General Cavaignac was Minister of War.
The first barricade was erected in the morning of Friday, the 23rd, at the Porte Saint Denis. It was attacked the same day. The National Guard marched resolutely against it. The attacking force was made up of battalions of the First and Second Legions, which arrived by way of the boulevards. When the assailants got within range a formidable volley was fired from the barricade, and littered the ground with National Guards. The National Guard, more irritated than intimidated, charged the barricade.
At this juncture a woman appeared upon its crest, a woman young, handsome, dishevelled, terrible. This woman, who was a prostitute, pulled up her clothes to her waist and screamed to the guards in that frightful language of the lupanar that one is always compelled to translate:
"Cowards! fire, if you dare, at the belly of a woman!" Here the affair became appalling. The National Guard did not hesitate. A volley brought the wretched creature down, and with a piercing shriek she toppled off the barricade. A silence of horror fell alike upon besiegers and besieged.
Suddenly another woman appeared. This one was even younger and more beautiful; she was almost a child, being barely seventeen years of age. Oh! the pity of it! She, too, was a street-walker. Like the other she lifted her skirt, disclosed her abdomen, and screamed: "Fire, brigands!" They fired, and riddled with bullets she fell upon the body of her sister in vice.
It was thus that the war commenced.
Nothing could be more chilling and more sombre. It is a hideous thing this heroism of abjection in which bursts forth all that weakness has of strength; this civilization attacked by cynicism and defending itself by barbarity. On one side the despair of the people, on the other the despair of society.
On Saturday the 24th, at 4 o'clock in the morning, I, as a Representative of the people, was at the barricade in the Place Baudoyer that was defended by the troops.
The barricade was a low one. Another, narrow and high, protected it in the street. The sun shone upon and brightened the chimney-tops. The tortuous Rue Saint Antoine wound before us in sinister solitude.
The soldiers were lying upon the barricade, which was little more than three feet high. Their rifles were stacked between the projecting paving-stones as though in a rack. Now and then bullets whistled overhead and struck the walls of the houses around us, bringing down a shower of stone and plaster. Occasionally a blouse, sometimes a cap-covered head, appeared at the corner of a street. The soldiers promptly fired at it. When they hit their mark they applauded "Good! Well aimed! Capital!"
They laughed and chatted gaily. At intervals there was a rattle and roar, and a hail of bullets rained upon the barricade from roofs and windows. A very tall captain with a grey moustache stood erect at the centre of the barrier, above which half his body towered. The bullets pattered about him as about a target. He was impassible and serene and spoke to his men in this wise:
"There, children, they are firing. Lie down. Look out, Laripaud, you are showing your head. Reload!"
All at once a woman turned the corner of a street. She came leisurely towards the barricade. The soldiers swore and shouted to her to get out of the way:
"Ah! the strumpet! Will you get out of that you w--! Shake a leg, damn you! She's coming to reconnoitre. She's a spy! Bring her down. Down with the moucharde!"
The captain restrained them:
"Don't shoot, it's a woman!"
After advancing about twenty paces the woman, who really did seem to be observing us, entered a low door which closed behind her.
This one was saved.
At 11 o'clock I returned from the barrier in the Place Baudoyer and took my usual place in the Assembly. A Representative whom I did not know, but who I have since learned was M. Belley, engineer, residing in the Rue des Tournelles, came and sat beside me and said:
"Monsieur Victor Hugo, the Place Royale has been burned. They set fire to your house. The insurgents entered by the little door in the Cul-de-sac Gu»m»n»e."
"And my family?" I inquired.
"They are safe."
"How do you know?"
"I have just come from there. Not being known I was able to get over the barricades and make my way here. Your family first took refuge in the Mairie. I was there, too. Seeing that the danger was over I advised Mme. Victor Hugo to seek some other asylum. She found shelter with her children in the home of a chimney-sweep named Martignon who lives near your house, under the arcades."
I knew that worthy Martignon family. This reassured me.
"And how about the riot?" I asked.
"It is a revolution," replied M. Belley. "The insurgents are in control of Paris at this moment."
I left M. Belley and hurriedly traversed the few rooms that separated the hall in which we held our sessions and the office occupied by the Executive Committee.
It was a small salon belonging to the presidency, and was reached through two rooms that were smaller still. In these ante-chambers was a buzzing crowd of distracted officers and National Guards. They made no attempt to prevent any one from entering.
I opened the door of the Executive Committee's office. Ledru-Rollin, very red, was half seated on the table. M. Gamier-Pages, very pale, and half reclining in an armchair, formed an antithesis to him. The contrast was complete: Garnier-PagŔs thin and bushy-haired, Ledru-Rollin stout and close-cropped. Two or three colonels, among them Representative Charras, were conversing in a corner. I only recall Arago vaguely. I do not remember whether M. Marie was there. The sun was shining brightly.
Lamartine, standing in a window recess on the left, was talking to a general in full uniform, whom I saw for the first and last time, and who was N»grier. N»grier was killed that same evening in front of a barricade.
I hurried to Lamartine, who advanced to meet me. He was wan and agitated, his beard was long, his clothes were dusty.
He held out his hand: "Ah! good morning, Hugo!"
Here is the dialogue that we engaged in, every word of which is still fresh in my memory:
"What is the situation, Lamartine?"
"We are done for!"
"What do you mean by that?"
"I mean that in a quarter of an hour from now the Assembly will be invaded."
(Even at that moment a column of insurgents was coming down the Rue de Lille. A timely charge of cavalry dispersed it.)
"Nonsense! What about the troops?"
"There are no troops!"
"But you said on Wednesday, and yesterday repeated, that you had sixty thousand men at your disposal."
"So I thought."
"Well, but you musn't give up like this. It is not only you who are at stake, but the Assembly, and not only the Assembly, but France, and not only France, but the whole of civilization. Why did you not issue orders yesterday to have the garrisons of the towns for forty leagues round brought to Paris? That would have given you thirty thousand men at once."
"We gave the orders--"
"The troops have not come!"
Lamartine took my hand and said;
"I am not Minister of War!"
At this moment a few representatives entered noisily. The Assembly had just voted a state of siege. They told Ledru-Rollin and Garnier-Pages so in a few words.
Lamartine half turned towards them and said in an undertone:
"A state of siege! A state of siege! Well, declare it if you think it is necessary. I have nothing to say!"
He dropped into a chair, repeating:
"I have nothing to say, neither yes nor no. Do what you like!"
General N»grier came up to me.
"Monsieur Victor Hugo," he said, "I have come to reassure you; I have received news from the Place Royale."
"Your family are safe."
"Thanks! Yes, I have just been so informed."
"But your house has been burnt down."
"What does that matter?" said I.
N»grier warmly pressed my arm:
"I understand you. Let us think only of one thing. Let us save the country!"
As I was withdrawing Lamartine quitted a group and came to me.
"Adieu," he said. "But do not forget this: do not judge me too hastily; I am not the Minister of War."
The day before, as the riot was spreading, Cavaignac, after a few measures had been taken, said to Lamartine:
"That's enough for to-day."
It was 5 o'clock.
"What!" exclaimed Lamartine. "Why, we have still four hours of daylight before us! And the riot will profit by them while we are losing them!"
He could get nothing from Cavaignac except:
"That's enough for to-day!"
On the 24th, about 3 o'clock, at the most critical moment, a Representative of the people, wearing his sail across his shoulder, arrived at the Mairie of the Second Arrondissement, in the Rue Chauchat, behind the Opera. He was recognised. He was Lagrange.
The National Guards surrounded him. In a twinkling the group became menacing:
"It is Lagrange! the man of the pistol shot!* What are you doing here? You are a coward! Get behind the barricades. That is your place--your friends are there--and not with us! They will proclaim you their chief; go on! They at any rate are brave! They are giving their blood for your follies; and you, you are afraid! You have a dirty duty to do, but at least do it! Get out of here! Begone!"
* It was popularly but erroneously believed that Lagrange fired the shot that led to the massacre in the Boulevard des Capucines on February 23.
Lagrange endeavoured to speak. His voice was drowned by hooting.
This is how these madmen received the honest man who after fighting for the people wanted to risk his life for society.
The insurgents were firing throughout the whole length of the Boulevard Beaumarchais from the tops of the new houses. Several had ambushed themselves in the big house in course of construction opposite the Galiote. At the windows they had stuck dummies,--bundles of straw with blouses and caps on them.
I distinctly saw a man who had entrenched himself behind a barricade of bricks in a corner of the balcony on the fourth floor of the house which faces the Rue du Pont-aux-Choux. The man took careful aim and killed a good many persons.
It was 3 o'clock. The troops and mobiles fringed the roofs of the Boulevard du Temple and returned the fire of the insurgents. A cannon had just been drawn up in front of the Gait» to demolish the house of the Galiote and sweep the whole boulevard.
I thought I ought to make an effort to put a stop to the bloodshed, if possible, and advanced to the corner of the Rue d'AngoulŐme. When I reached the little turret near there I was greeted with a fusillade. The bullets pattered upon the turret behind me, and ploughed up the playbills with which it was covered. I detached a strip of paper as a memento. The bill to which it belonged announced for that very Sunday a fŐte at the Chíteau des Flours, "with a thousand lanterns."
* * * * *
For four months we have been living in a furnace. What consoles me is that the statue of the future will issue from it. It required such a brazier to melt such a bronze.