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Henri, the Regicide

by Victor Hugo

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August 27

The deliberation began at twenty minutes past eight o'clock. The Peers, without swords or hats, sit with closed doors; only the clerks are present. On taking their seats the Peers cried out on all sides, "Open the ventilators; let us have some light; give us some air!"

The heat that was in the hermetically sealed room was over-powering.

Two questions were asked by the chancellor:--

"Is the prisoner Henri guilty of the attempt upon the life of the king? Is he guilty of an attempt upon the person of the king?"

I should not omit to say that during the calling of the names Langrenée said to me, "I shall be the only one of the diplomatic body who will not vote for the sentence of death." I congratulated him, and went and sat down again behind the bench occupied by Bussière.

Another Peer, one of the new ones, whom I did not know, left his seat, came towards me, and seated himself upon the empty chair at the side, saying to me, "You do not know me?" "No." "Well, I nursed you when you were little,--no higher than that, upon my knees. I am a friend of your father's. I am General Rapatel."

I remembered the name, which my father had often mentioned. I shook hands with the general. We conversed affectionately. He spoke to me of my childhood, I spoke to him of his great battles, and both of us became younger again. Then silence took place. The voting had begun.

The voting went on, on the question of an attempt on the life or an attempt on the person without its being ascertained beforehand whether the difference in the crime involved any difference in the penalty. However, it was soon evident that those Peers who decided it was an attempt on the person did not desire the death penalty, and the majority of this opinion became larger and larger.

As the second vote was about to be taken, I said: "It results from the deliberation on the whole, and from the earnest views which have been put forward, that, in the opinion of all the judges, the words, 'person of the king' have a double sense, and that they signify the physical person and the moral person. These two senses, however, are distinct to the conscience, although they are confounded in the vote. The physical person has not been injured, has not been seriously menaced, as nearly all my noble colleagues are agreed. It is only the moral person who has been not only menaced, but even injured. Having given this explanation, and with this reserve, that it is perfectly understood that it is the moral person only that is injured, I associate myself with the immense majority of my colleagues, who declare the prisoner, Joseph Henri, guilty of an attempt upon the person of the king."

The clerk proclaimed the result:--

One hundred and twenty-two Peers decided for an attempt on the person; thirty-eight for an attempt on the life; four for an act of contempt.

The sitting was suspended for a quarter of an hour. The Peers left the Court, and became scattered in groups in the lobby. I conversed with M. de la Redorte, and I told him that if it came to the point I admitted State policy as well as justice, but on the condition that I should consider State policy as the human voice, and justice as the Divine voice. M. de Mornay came up to me and said that the Anciens abandoned the death penalty; that they were sensible of the feeling of the House, and gave way to it; but that, in agreement with the majority, they would vote for penal servitude for life, and I was asked to give my support to this vote. I said that it was impossible for me to do so; that I congratulated our Anciens on having abandoned the death penalty, but that I should not vote for penal servitude; that, in my opinion, the punishment exceeded the offence; that, moreover, it was not in harmony with the dignity of the Chamber or its precedents.

The sitting was resumed at half-past four.

When my turn came, I simply said, "Detention for life."

Several Peers gave the same vote. Thirteen in all. Fourteen voted for the death penalty; a hundred and thirty-three penal servitude for life.

Sever Peers said to me, "You ought to be satisfied; there is no death sentence. The judgment is a good one." I replied, "It might have been better."

The procurator-general and the advocate-general were brought in, in scarlet robes; then a public rushed in noisily. There were a number of men in blouses. Two women who were among the crowd were turned out. The names of the Peers were called; then the chancellor read the judgment amid profound silence.

P.S.--September 12

The punishment has not been commuted; the judgment will be carried out.

Joseph Henri, who had been transferred from the Luxembourg and from teh Conciergerie to the prison of La Roquette, started the day before yesterday for Toulon in a prison-van with cells, accompanied by eight felons. While the irons were being placed upon him he was weak, and trembled convulsively; he exited the compassion of everybody. He could not believe that he was really a convict. He muttered in an undertone, "Oh dear! if I had but known!"

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