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Henri, the Regicide

by Victor Hugo

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August 25

The trial of Joseph Henri begins today in the Court of Peers.

The prisoner is brought in after the Court is seated by four gendarmes, of whom two hold him by the arms. There were six to Lecomte. Jospeh Henri is a little man, who appears over fifty years of age. He is dressed in a black frock-coat; he has a black silk waistcoat and black cravat, whiskers, black hair, a long nose. He wears eyeglasses.

He enters, bows three times to the Court, as an actor bows to the pit, and sits down. During the calling of the names he takes snuff with a profound look of ease.

The chancellor tells him to rise, and asks him his surname and Christian names. He replies in a low tone of voice, in a subdued and timid manner. "Speak louder," said the chancellor. The prisoner repeats his replies loudly and very distinctly. He looks like a worthy citizen who it taking out a passport, and who is being questioned by the government employee. He sits down and whispers a few words to his counsel, M. Baroche, bâtonnier of the order of barristers. There are five barristers at the bar. Among the crowd which throngs the semicircle behind the prisoner is a priest. Not far from the priest is a Turk.

The prisoner is so short that when he stands up he does not reach above the heads of the gendarmes seated beside him. From time to time he blows his nose loudly in a white handkerchief with blue squares. He has the appearance of a country registrar. His person altogether suggests something ineffably mild, sad, and subdued. Every now and then, however, he holds his head in his two hands, and a look of despair penetrates through the air of indifference. He is, in fact, despairing and indifferent at one and the same time. When the procurator-general and the chancellor tell him that he is playiing a part, he looks at them without any appearance of resentment, and like a man who does not understand.

He speaks a great deal, rather fast, some times in low, at others in very loud, tones. He appears to see things only through a veil, and to hear only through a screen. One would imagine there was a wall, barely transparent, between the real world and himself. He looks fixedly, just as if he is seeking to make out things and distinguish faces from behind a barrier. He utters rambling words in a subdued manner. They have a meaning, however, for a thoughtful person.

He concludes a long explanation thus: "My crime is without a stain. At present my soul is as in a a labyrinth."

The procurator-general said to him, "I am not to be imposed on by you. You have an object, and that is to escape the death penalty by appearing to invite it, and in this way to secure some less grave penatly."

"Pooh!" he exclaimed; "how can you say so? Other penalties are a punishment, the penalty of death is annihilation."

He stood musing for a moment, and then addd: "For eighteen years my mind has suffered. I do not know what state my mind is in; I cannot say. But you see I am not trying to play the madman."

"You had," the chancellor said, "ferocious ideas."

He replies: "I had no ferocious ideas; I had only ideas" (here he indicates with a gesture an imaginary flight of birds hovering round his head) "which I thought came to me from God."

Then he remains silent for a moment, and continues, almost violently: "I have suffered a great deal,--a great deal" (folding his arms). "And do you think I suffer no longer?"

Objection is made to certain passages of what he has written.

"Just as you please. All that I have written I have written, written, written; but I have not read it."

At another moment he breaks out unexpectedly amid the examination with this: "I have beliefs. My principal belief is that there are rewards and punishments above."

The names of all the regicides, of Fieschi, of Alibaud, of Lecomte, are mentioned to him. His face becomes clouded, and he exclaims, "How is it you speak to me of all those whose name you have just mentioned?"

At this moment Viennet come up behind me, and says, "He is not a madman, he is a fool."

For myself I should have said the precise contrary.

He is asked, "Why did you write to M. de Lamartine and M. Raspail?"

He replies, "Because I read some of their writings, and they appeared to me to be philanthropists; and because I thought that philanthropy should not be found only in a pen point."

He frequently concludes his replies with this word, addressed to the Court, and uttered almost in a whisper, "Appreciate!"

The procurator-general recapitulates all the charges, and concludes by asking him, "What have you to say in reply?"

"I have no reply to make."

And he places his hand on his forehead as if he had a pain there.

In the midst of a long rambling statement, mingled here and there with flashes of intelligence, and even of thoughtfulness, he stops short to ask for a basin of soup, and gives a number of directions to the attendant who brings it to him. He has a fit of trembling which is plainly perceptible. He drinks a glass of water several times during the examination. He trembles so violently that he cannot carry the glass to his lips without holding it with both hands.

He calls the procurator-general "Monseiur le Procureur." When he speaks of the king he says, "his Majesty."

During the very violent speech, for the prosecution, of the procurator-general, he makes signs of approval. During the speech for the defence, of his counsel, he makes signs of disagreement. However, he listens to them with profound attention. At one point M. Hebert said, "The prisoner has no political animus. He even protests his respect and admiration for the king." Joseph Henri nods his head twice in token of assent. At another moment the procurator-general says that the prisoner wants to secure a ludicrously inadequate punishment. He says, "No," with a shake of his head, and takes snuff.

During the temporary rising of the Court, Villemain came to me in the reading-room, and said, "What do you think of all this? It seems to me that no one here is genuine,--neither the prisoner, nor the procurator-general, nor the chancellor. They all look to me as though they are shamming, and as though not one of them says what he thinks. There is something false, equivocal, and confused in this affair."

During the trial Villemain contemplated Joseph Henri with fixed and melancholy interest.

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