Paris under the Commune
by John Leighton
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Socialism, or the Red Republic, is all one; for it would tear down the tricolour and set up the red flag. It would make penny pieces out of the Column Vendome. It would knock down the statue of Napoleon and raise up that of Marat in its stead. It would suppress the Academie, the Ecole Polytechnique, and the Legion of Honour. To the grand device Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, it would add "Ou la mort." It would bring about a general bankruptcy. It would ruin the rich without enriching the poor. It would destroy labour, which gives to each one his bread. It would abolish property and family. It would march about with the heads of the proscribed on pikes, fill the prisons with the suspected, and empty them by massacres. It would convert France into the country of gloom. It would strangle liberty, stifle the arts, silence thought, and deny God. It would bring into action these two fatal machines, one of which never works without the other—the assignat press and the guillotine. In a word, it would do in cold blood what the men of 1793 did in fever, and after the grand horrors which our fathers saw, we should have the horrible in all that was low and small.

(VICTOR HUGO, 1848.)


Early in June of the present year I was making notes and sketches, without the least idea of what I should do with them. I was at the Mont-Parnasse Station of the Western Railway, awaiting a train from Paris to St. Cloud. Our fellow passengers, as we discovered afterwards, were principally prisoners for Versailles; the guards, soldiers; and the line, for two miles at least, appeared desolation and ruin.

The facade of the station, a very large one, was pockmarked all over by Federal bullets, whilst cannon balls had cut holes through the stone wall as if it had been cheese, and gone down the line, towards Cherbourg or Brest! The restaurant below was nearly annihilated, the counters, tables, and chairs being reduced to a confused heap. But there was a book-stall and on that book-stall reposed a little work, entitled the "Bataille des Sept Jours," a brochure which a friend bought and gave to me, saying, "Voila la texte de vos croquis," From seven days my ideas naturally wandered to seventy-three—the duration of the reign of the Commune—and then again to two hundred and twenty days—that included the Commune of 1871 and its antecedents. Hence this volume, which I liken to a French chateau, to which I have added a second storey and wings.

And now that the house is finished, I must render my obligations to M. Mendes and numerous French friends, for their kind assistance and valuable aid, including my confreres of "The Graphic," who have allowed me to enliven the walls with pictures from their stores; and last, and not least, my best thanks are due to an English Peer, who placed at my disposal his unique collection of prints and journals of the period bearing upon the subject—a subject I am pretty familiar with. Powder has done its work, the smell of petroleum has passed away, the house that called me master has vanished from the face of the earth, and my concierge and his wife are reported fusilles by the Versaillais; and to add to the disaster, my rent was paid in advance, having been deposited with a notaire prior to the First Siege.... But my neighbours, where are they? In my immediate neighbourhood six houses were entirely destroyed, and as many more half ruined. I can only speak of one friend, an amiable and able architect, who, alas! remonstrated in person, and received a ball from a revolver through the back of his neck. His head is bowed for life. He has lost his pleasure and his treasure, a valuable museum of art,—happily they could not burn his reputation, or the monument of his life—a range of goodly folio volumes that exist "pour tous."


LONDON, 1871





INTRODUCTORY CHAPTER—The 30th October, 1870—The Hotel de Ville invaded—Governor Trochu resigns—A Revolt attempted—Meetings, Place de la Bastille—The Prussians enter Paris—Hostility of the National Guard

I. The Memorable 18th of March—Line and Nationals Fraternise—Discipline at a Discount

II. Assassination of Generals Lecomte and Clement Thomas

III. Proclamation of M. Picard—The Government retires to Versailles

IV. The New Regime Proclaimed—Obscurity of New Masters

V. Paris Hesitates—Small Sympathy with Versailles

VI. The Buttes Montmartre

VII. An Issue Possible—An Approved Proclamation

VIII. Demonstration of the Friends of Order

IX. The Drama of the Rue de la Paix—Victims to Order

X. A Wedding

XI. The Bourse and Belleville

XII. Watching and Waiting

XIII. A Timid but Prudent Person

XIV Some Federal Opinions

XV. Proclamation of Admiral Saisset—Paris Satisfied.

XVI. A Widow

XVII. The Central Committee Triumphs

XVIII. Paris Elections

XIX. The Commune a Fact—A Motley Assembly

XX. Proclamation of the Elections

XXI. A Batch of Official Decrees—Landlord, and Tenant

XXII. Requisitions and Feasts

XXIII. Removals and Retirements

XXIV. A General Flight

XXV. An Envoy to Garibaldi

XXVI. Commencement of Civil War—Beyond the Arc de Triomphe

XXVII. Mont Valerien opens on the Federals—Contradictory News

XXVIII. Death of General Duval—Able Administration

XXIX. Antipathy to the Church—The Archbishop Interrogated

XXX. The Accomplices of Versailles

XXXI. Death of Colonel Flourens

XXXII. The Cross and the Red Flag

XXXIII. Colonel Assy of Creuzot—Disgrace of Lullier

XXXIV. Fighting goes on

XXXV. Federal Funerals

XXXVI. Prudent Counsel

XXXVII. Suppression of Newspapers

XXXVIII. The Second Bombardment—Avenue de la Grande Armee—Reckless Aim of the Versaillais

XXXIX. The Plan of Bergeret

XL. Another General—Police and Pressgang—A Citizen of the World

XLI. Women and Children

XLII. Why is Conciliation Impossible?

XLIII. The Portable Guillotine

XLIV. The Common Grave

XLV. Idle Paris

XLVI. The Press

XLVII. Day follows Day

XLVIII. The Condemned Column—Model Decrees

XLIX. Thiers and Conciliation—Paris and France

L. Communist Caricatures—Political Satire

LI. Gustave Courbet—Federation of Art—Courbet, President

LII. Camp, Place Vendome

LIII. Elections of the 16th of April

LIV. The "Change" under the Commune

LV. Elections sans Electors—Farce of Universal Suffrage

LVI. A la Mode de Londres

LVII. The Little Sisters of the Poor

LVIII. Becon and Asnieres taken—Declaration to the French People—Federation of Communes—The Commune or the Deluge

LIX. A Court-Martial

LX. A Heroic Gamin

LXI. Killing the Dead

LXII. The Truce at Neuilly—Porte-Maillot destroyed—Neuilly in Ruins

LXIII. Masonic Mediation—The Envoy of Peace—Citizens and Brothers—A White Flag on Porte-Maillot

LXIV. Prudent Monsieur Pyat

LXV. Resources of the Commune—The Royal Road to Riches

LXVI. The Prophecy of Proudhon

LXVII. Revolutionary Balloons

LXVIII. A Confession of Conscience

LXIX. Communist Journalism—Sensation Articles

LXX. Fort Issy falls

LXXI. Cluseret arrested

LXXII. The Executive Commission—Committee of Public Safety

LXXIII. A Competent Tribunal

LXXIV. The Password betrayed

LXXV. The Condemned Chapel

LXXVI. Restitution is Robbery

LXXVII. The Nuns of Picpus

LXXVIII. Rossel resigns—The Semblance of a Government

LXXIX. Want of Funds—The Sinews of War

LXXX. Passwords—The Chariot of Apollo—Refractories

LXXXI. Sacrilege—Clubs in the Churches

LXXXII. Refractories in Danger

LXXXIII. The Home of M. Thiers, Demolition and Removal

LXXXIV. Filial Love

LXXXV. Communal Secessionists—Save himself who can

LXXXVI. The Failing Cause—The Column Vendome falls

LXXXVII. A Concert at the Tuileries

LXXXVIII. Cartridge Magazine Explosion

LXXXIX. The Advent of Action—Paris ceases to smile

XC. The Troops enter—Street Fortifications—Insurgents at home

XCI. Arrests and Murders

XCII. Fire and Sword

XCIII. Barricade at the Place de Clichy

XCIV. Rack and Ruin

XCV. Bloodshed and Brigandage

XCVI. Hotel de Ville on Fire—A Furnace

XCVII. Petroleurs and Petroleuses

XCVIII. Streets of Paris

XCIX. The Expiring Demons—The Hostages—Reprisals—Cemeteries

C. Sewers and Catacombs

CI. Mourning and Sadness


Chronology of the Commune

Memoir of Rochefort.

The 18th of March

The Prussians and the Commune

Memoir of Gambon

Memoir of Lullier

Memoir of Protot

Translation from Victor Hugo

Note of Jourde

Last Proclamations of the Commune

Note of Ferre

The Hostages—Gendarmes, &c.

President Bonjean

Note of Urbain.

Devastations of Paris

Official Report of General Ladmirault

Ammunition expended on Second Siege of Paris

List of Monuments and Buildings destroyed

Index to Plan—Damage by Fire, &c.


*Separate Plates on tinted paper.































































































Late in the day of the 30th October, 1870, the agitation was great in Paris; the news had spread that the village of Le Bourget had been retaken by the Prussians. The military report had done what it could to render the pill less bitter by saying that "this village did not form a part of the system of defence," but the people though kept in ignorance perceived instinctively that there must be weakness on the part of the chiefs. After so much French blood had been shed in taking the place, men of brave will would not have been wanting to occupy it. We admit that Le Bourget may not have been important from a military point of view, but as regarding its moral effect its loss was much to be regretted.

The irritation felt by the population of Paris was changed into exasperation, when on the following day the news of the reduction of Metz appeared in the Official Journal:

"The Government has just been acquainted with the sad intelligence of the capitulation of Metz. Marshal Bazaine and his army were compelled to surrender, after heroic efforts, which the want of food and ammunition alone rendered it impossible to maintain. They have been made prisoners of war."

And after this the Government talks of an armistice! What! Strasburg, Toul, Metz, and so many other towns have resisted to the last dire extremity, and Paris, who expects succour from the provinces, is to capitulate, while a single effort is left untried? Has she no more bread? No more powder? Have her citizens no more blood in their veins? No, no! No armistice!

In the morning, a deputation, formed of officers of the National Guards, went to the Hotel de Ville to learn from the Government what were its intentions. They were received by M. Etienne Arago, who promised them that the decision should be made known to them about two o'clock.

The rappel was beaten at the time mentioned; battalions of the National Guards poured into the Place, some armed, many without arms.

Over the sea of heads the eye was attracted by banners, and enormous placards bearing the inscriptions—

"Vive la Republique!

"No Armistice!"

or else

"Vive la Commune!

"Death to Cowards!"

Rochefort,[1] with several other members of the Government, shows himself at the principal gate, which is guarded by a company of Mobiles. General Trochu appears in undress; he is received with cries of "Vive la Republique! La levee en masse! No Armistice! The National Guards, who demand the levee en masse, would but cause a slaughter. We must have cannon first; we will have them." Alas! it had been far better to have had none whatever, as what follows will prove. While some cry, "Vive Trochu!" others shout, "Down with Trochu!" Before long the Hotel de Ville is invaded; the courts, the saloons, the galleries, all are filled. Each one offers his advice, but certain groups insist positively on the resignation of the Government. Lists of names are passed from hand to hand; among the names are those of Dorian (president), Schoelcher, Delescluze, Ledru Rollin, Felix Pyat.

Cries are raised that if the Government refuse to resign, its members will be arrested.

"Yes! yes! seize them!" And an officer springs forward to make them prisoners as they sit in council.

"Excuse me, Monsieur, but what warrant have you for so doing?" asks one of the members.

"I have nothing to do with warrants. I act in the name of the people!"

"Have you consulted the people? Those assembled here do not constitute the people."

The officer was disconcerted. Not long afterwards, however, the crowd is informed that the members of the Government are arrested.

The principal scene took place in the cabinet of the ex-prefect. Citizen Blanqui approaches the table; addressing the people, he requests them to evacuate the room so as to allow the commission to deliberate. The commission! What commission? Where does it spring from? No one knew anything of it, so the members must evidently have named themselves. Monsieur Blanqui had seen to that, no doubt. During this time the adjoining room is the theatre of the most extraordinary excitement; the men of the 106th Battalion, who were on guard in the interior of the Hotel de Ville, are compelled to use their arms to prevent any one else entering. After some tumult and struggling, but without any spilling of blood, some National Guards of this battalion manage to fight their way through to the room in which the members of the Government are prisoners, and succeed in delivering them.

At about two o'clock in the morning, the 106th Battalion had completely cleared the Hotel de Ville of the crowds. No violence had been done, and General Trochu was reviewing a body of men ranged in battle order, which extended from the Place de l'Hotel de Ville to the Place de la Concorde. An hour later, quiet was completely restored.

The members of the Government, who had been incarcerated during several hours, now wished to show their authority; they felt that their power had been shaken, and saw the necessity of strengthening it. What can a Government do in such a case? Call for a plebiscite. But this time Paris alone was consulted, and for a good reason. Thus, on the 1st November, the people, of Paris were enjoined to express their wishes by answering yes or no to this simple question:—

"Do the people of Paris recognise the authority of the Government for the National Defence?"

This was clear, positive, and free from all ambiguity.

The partizans of the Commune declared vehemently that those who voted in the affirmative were reactionists. "Give us the Commune of '93!" shouted those who thought they knew a little more about the matter than the rest. They were generally rather badly received. It is no use speaking of '93! Replace your Blanquis, your Felix Pyats, your Flourens by men like those of the grand revolution, and then we shall be glad to hear what you have to say on the subject.

The inhabitants of Montmartre, La-Chapelle, Belleville, behaved like good citizens, keeping a brave heart in the hour of misfortune.

However it came about, the Government was maintained by a majority of 557,995 votes against 62,638.

Well, Messieurs of the Commune, try again, or, still better, remain quiet.

During the night of the 21st of January the members of the National Defence and the chief officers of the army were assembled around the table in the council-room. They were still under the mournful impression left by the fatal day of the nineteenth, on which hundreds of citizens had fallen at Montretout, at Garches, and at Buzenval. Thanks to the want of foresight of the Government, the people of Paris were rationed to 300 grammes of detestable black bread a day for each person. All representations made to them had been in vain. Ration our bread by degrees, had been said, we should thus accustom ourselves to privation, and be prepared insensibly, for greater sufferings, while the duration of our provisions would be lengthened. But the answer always was: "Bread? We shall have enough, and to spare." When the great crisis was seen approaching, the public feeling showed itself by violent agitation. It was not surprising, therefore, that all the faces of these gentlemen at the council-table bore marks of great depression. The Governor of Paris offered his resignation, as he was in the habit of doing after every rather stormy sitting; but his colleagues refused to accept it, as they had before. What was to be done? Had not the Governor of Paris sworn never to capitulate? After a night spent in discussing the question, the members of Government decided on the following plan of action. You will see that it was as simple as it was innocent! The following announcement was placarded on all the walls:—

"The Government for the National Defence has decided that the chief commandment of the army of Paris shall in future be separate from the presidency of the Government.

"General Vinoy is named Commandant-in-Chief of the army of Paris.

"The title and functions of the Governor of Paris are suppressed."

The trick is played: if they capitulate now, it will no longer be the act of the Governor of Paris. How ingenious this would have been, if it had not been pitiful!

"General Trochu retains the presidency of the Government."

By the side of this placard was the proclamation of General Thomas.


"Last night, a handful of insurgents forced open the prison of Mazas, and delivered several of the prisoners, amongst whom was M. Flourens. The same men attempted to occupy the mairie of the 20th arrondissement (Belleville), and to install the chiefs of the insurrection there; your commander-in-chief relies on your patriotism to repress this shameful sedition.

"The safety of Paris is at stake.

"While the enemy is bombarding our forts, the factions within our walls use all their efforts to paralyse the defence.

"In the name of the public good, in the name of law, and of the high and sacred duty that commands you all to unite in the defence of Paris, hold yourselves ready to frustrate this most criminal attempt; at the first call, let the National Guard rise to a man, and the perturbators will be struck powerless.

"The Commander-in-Chief of the National Guard,


"A true copy.

"Minister of the Interior ad interim,


"Paris, 22nd January, 1871."

In the morning, large groups of people assembled from mere curiosity, appeared on the Place of the Hotel de Ville, which however wore a peaceful aspect.

At about half-past two in the afternoon, a detachment of a hundred and fifty armed National Guards issued from the Rue du Temple, and stationed themselves before the Hotel de Ville, crying, "Down with Trochu!" "Long live the Commune!" A short colloquy was then held between several of the National Guards and some officers of the Mobiles, who spoke with perfect calmness. Suddenly, a shot is fired, and at the same moment, as in the grand scene of a melodrama, the windows and the great door are flung open, and two lines of Mobile Guards are seen, the front rank kneeling, the second standing, and all levelling their muskets and prepared to fire. Then came a volley which spread terror amidst the crowds of people in the Place, who precipitated themselves in all directions, uttering cries and shrieks. In another moment the Place is cleared. Ah! those famous chassepots can work miracles.

The insurgents, during this mad flight of men, women, and children, had answered the attack, some aiming from the shelter of angles and posts, others discharging their rifles from the windows of neighbouring houses.

Then the order to cease firing is heard, and a train of litterbearers, waving their handkerchiefs as flags, approach from the Avenue Victoria. At the Hotel de Ville one officer only is wounded, but on the Place lie a dozen victims, two of whom are women.

At four o'clock the 117th Battalion of the National Guard takes up its position before the municipal palace. They are reinforced by a detachment of gendarmes, mounted and on foot, and by companies of Mobiles, under the command of General Carreard.

General Clement Thomas hastens to address a few words to the 117th; later, he paid with his life for thus appearing on the side of order. Finally, General Vinoy arrives, followed by his staff, to take measures against any renewed acts of aggression. Mitrailleuses and cannon are stationed before the Hotel de Ville; the drums beat the rappel throughout the town, and a great number of battalions of National Guards assemble in the Rue de Rivoli, at the Louvre, and on the Place de la Concorde; others bivouac before the Palais de l'Industrie, while on the other side of the Champs Elysees regiments of cavalry, infantry, and mobiles, are drawn out. The agitators have disappeared, calm is restored, within the city be it understood, for all this did not interrupt the animated interchange of shells between the French and Prussian batteries, and a great number of Parisians, who had twice helped to disperse the insurgents of October and January, thought involuntarily of the Commune of the 10th of August, 1793, which headed the revolution, and said to themselves that there were perhaps some amongst the present insurgents who, like the former, would rise up to deliver them from the Prussians. For these agitators have some appearance of truth on their side: "You are weak and timorous," they cry to those in power; "you seem awaiting a defeat rather than expecting a victory. Give place to the energetic, obscure though they may be; for the men of the great Commune, of our first glorious revolution, they also were for the greater part unknown. We have confidence in the army of Paris, and we will break the iron circle of invasion."

Though the Communists have since then shown bravery, and sometimes heroism, in their struggle against the Versailles troops, we are very doubtful, now that we have seen their chiefs in action, whether the efforts they talked of would have been crowned with success. Their object was power, and, having nothing to risk and all to gain, they would have forthwith disposed of public property in order to procure themselves enjoyment and honours. The few right-minded men who at first committed themselves, proved this by the fact of their giving in their resignation a few days after the Commune had established itself.

Tranquillity had returned. In the morning of the 25th, guards patrolled the Place de la Bastille, the Place du Chateau d'Eau, the Boulevard Magenta, and the outer boulevards. Paris started as if she had been aroused from some fearful dream, and the waking thought of the enemy at her gates stirred up all her energies once more.

The Communists had been defeated for the second time; but they were soon to take a terrible revenge.

The vow made by the Governor of Paris had been repeated by the majority of the Parisians, and all parties seemed to have rallied round him under the same device: vanquish or die. After the forts, the barricades, and as a last resource, the burning of the city. Who knows? Perhaps the fanatics of resistance had already made out the plan of destruction which served later for the Commune. It has been proved that nothing in this work of ruin was impromptu.

The news of the convention of the 28th of January, the preliminary of the capitulation of Paris, was thus very badly received, and M. Gambetta, by exhorting the people, in his celebrated circular of the 31st of January, to resist to the death, sowed the seeds of civil war:—


"The enemy has just inflicted upon France the most cruel insult that she has yet had to endure in this accursed war, the too-heavy punishment of the errors and weaknesses of a great people.

"Paris, the impregnable, vanquished by famine, is no longer able to hold in respect the German hordes. On the 28th of January, the capital succumbed, her forts surrendered to the enemy. The city still remains intact, wresting, as it were, by her own power and moral grandeur, a last homage from barbarity.

"But in falling, Paris leaves us the glorious legacy of her heroic sacrifices. During five months of privation and suffering, she has given to France the time to collect herself, to call her children together, to find arms, to compose armies, young as yet, but valiant and determined, and to whom is wanting only that solidity which can be obtained but by experience. Thanks to Paris, we hold in our hands, if we are but resolute and patriotic, all that is needed to revenge, and set ourselves free once more.

"But, as though evil fortune had resolved to overwhelm us, something even more terrible and more fraught with anguish than the fall of Paris, was awaiting us.

"Without our knowledge, without either warning, us or consulting us, an armistice, the culpable weakness of which was known to us too late, has been signed, which delivers into the hands of the Prussians the departments occupied by our soldiers, and which obliges us to wait for three weeks, in the midst of the disastrous circumstances in which the country is plunged, before a national assembly can be assembled.

"We sent to Paris for some explanation, and then awaited in silence the promised arrival of a member of the government, to whom we were determined to resign our office. As delegates of government, we desired to obey, and thereby prove to all, friends and dissidents, by setting an example of moderation and respect of duty, that democracy is not only the greatest of all political principles, but also the most scrupulous of governments.

"However, no one has arrived from Paris, and it is necessary to act, come what may; the perfidious machinations of the enemies of France must be frustrated.

"Prussia relies upon the armistice to enervate and dissolve our armies; she hopes that the Assembly, meeting after so long a succession of disasters, and under the impression of the terrible fall of Paris, wilt be timid and weak, and ready to submit to a shameful peace.

"It is for us to upset these calculations, and to turn the very instruments which are prepared to crush the spirit of resistance, into spurs that shall arouse and excite it.

"Let us make this same armistice into a code of instruction for our young troops; let us employ the three coming weeks in pushing on the organization of the defence and of the war more ardently than ever.

"Instead of the meeting of cowardly reactionists that our enemies expect, let us form an assembly that shall be veritably national and republican, desirous of peace, if peace can ensure the honour, the rank, and the integrity of our country, but capable of voting for war rather than aiding in the assassination of France.


"Remember that our fathers left us France, whole and indivisible; let us not be traitors to our history; let us not deliver up our traditional domains into the hands of barbarians. Who then will sign the armistice? Not you, legitimists, who fought so valiantly under the flag of the Republic, in the defence of the ancient kingdom of France; nor you, sons of the bourgeois of 1789, whose work was to unite the old provinces in a pact of indissoluble union; nor you, workmen of the towns, whose intelligence and generous patriotism represent France in all her strength and grandeur, the leader of modern nations; nor you, tillers of the soil, who never have spared your blood in the defence of the Revolution, which gave you the ownership of your land and your title of citizen.

"No! Not one Frenchman will be found to sign this infamous act; the enemy's attempt to mutilate France will be frustrated, for, animated with the same love of the mother country and bearing our reverses with fortitude, we shall become strong once more and drive out the foreign legions.

"To the attainment of this noble end, we must devote our hearts, our wills, our lives, and, a still greater sacrifice perhaps, put aside our preferences.

"We must close our ranks about the Republic, show presence of mind and strength of purpose; and without passion or weakness, swear, like free men, to defend France and the Republic against all and everyone.

"To arms!"

The Government, by obtaining from M. de Bismarck a condition that the National Guards should retain their arms, hoped to win public favour again, as one offers a rattle to a fractious child to keep him quiet; and it published the news on the 3rd of February:

"After the most strenuous efforts on our part, we have obtained, for the National Guard, the condition ratified by the convention of the 28th January."

Three days after, on the 6th of February, Gambetta wrote:

"His conscience would not permit him to remain a member of a government with which he no longer agreed in principle."

The candidates, elected in Paris on the 8th of February, were Louis Blanc, Victor Hugo, Garibaldi, Gambetta, Rochefort, Delescluze, Pyat, Lockroy, Floquet, Milliere, Tolain, Malon. The provinces, on the other hand, chose their deputies from among the party of reaction, the members of which have been so well-known since under the name of rurals.

Loud murmurs arose in the ranks of the National Guard, when the decrees of the 18th and 19th of February, concerning their pay, were published; and later, when an order from headquarters required the marching companies to send in to the state depot all their campaigning paraphernalia.

On the 18th of February, M. Thiers was named chief of the executive power by a vote of the Assembly.

On Sunday, the 26th of February, the Place de la Bastille, in which manifestations had been held for the last two days in celebration of the revolution of February '48, became as a shrine, to which whole battalions of the National Guard marched to the sound of music, their flags adorned with caps of liberty and cockades. The Column of July was hung with banners and decorated with wreaths of immortelles. Violent harangues, the theme of which was the upholding of the Republic "to the death," were uttered at its foot. One man, of the name of Budaille, pretended that he held proofs of the treachery of the Government for the National Defence, and promised that he would produce them at the proper time and place.

Up to this moment, the demonstrations seemed to have but one result—that of impeding circulation; but they soon gave rise to scenes of tumult and disorder. Towards one o'clock, when perhaps twenty or thirty thousand persons were on the above Place, an individual, accused of being a spy, was dragged by an infuriated mob to the river, and flung, bound hand and foot, into the look by the Ile Saint Louis, amidst the wild cries and imprecations of the madmen whose prey he had become.

The night of the 26th was very agitated; drums beat to arms, and on the morning of the 27th the Commander-in-Chief of the National Guard issued a proclamation, in which he appealed to the good citizens of Paris, and confided the care of the city to the National Guard. This had no effect, however, on the aspect of the Place de la Bastille; the crowd continued to applaud, frantically, the incendiary speeches of the socialist party, who had sworn to raise Paris at any cost.

On the same day, the 27th of February, the Government informed the people of Paris of the result of the negociations with Prussia, in the following proclamation:

"The Government appeals to your patriotism and your wisdom; you hold in your hands the future of Paris and of France herself. It is for you to save or to ruin both!

"After a heroic resistance, famine forced you to open your gates to the victorious enemy; the armies that should have come to your aid were driven over the Loire. These incontestable facts have compelled the Government for the National Defence to open negotiations of peace.

"For six days your negotiators have disputed the ground foot by foot; they did all that was humanly possible, to obtain less rigorous conditions. They have signed the preliminaries of peace, which are about to be submitted to the National Assembly.

"During the time necessary for the examination and discussion of these preliminaries, hostilities would have recommenced, and blood would, have flowed afresh and uselessly, without a prolongation of the armistice.

"This prolongation could only be obtained on the condition of a partial and very temporary occupation of a portion of Paris: absolutely to be limited to the quarter of the Champs Elysees. Not more than thirty thousand men are to enter the city, and they are to retire as soon as the preliminaries of peace have been ratified, which act can only occupy a few days.

"If this convention were not to be respected the armistice would be at an end: the enemy, already master of the forts, would occupy the whole of Paris by force. Your property, your works of art, your monuments, now guaranteed by the convention, would cease to exist.

"The misfortune would reach the whole of France. The frightful ravages of the war, which have not heretofore passed the Loire, would extend to the Pyrenees.

"It is then absolutely true to say that the salvation of France is at stake. Do not imitate the error of those who would not listen to us when, eight months ago, we abjured them not to undertake a war which must be fatal.

"The French army which defended Paris with so much courage will occupy the left of the Seine, to ensure the loyal execution of the new armistice. It is for the National Guard to lend its aid, by keeping order in the rest of the city.

"Let all good citizens who earned honour as its chiefs, and showed themselves so brave before the enemy, reassume their authority, and the cruel situation of the moment will be terminated by peace and the return of public prosperity."

This clause of the occupation of Paris by the Prussians was regarded by some people as a mere satisfaction of national vanity; but the greater number considered it as an apple of discord thrown by M. de Bismarck, who had every reason to desire that civil war should break out, thus making himself an accomplice of the Socialists and the members of the International. Confining ourselves simply to the analysis of facts, and to those considerations which may enlighten public opinion respecting the causes of events, we shall not allow ourselves to be carried over the vast field of hypothesis, but preserve the modest character of narrators. On the night of the 27th of February, the admiral commanding the third section of the fortifications, having noticed the hostile attitude of the National Guard, caused the troops which had been disarmed in accordance with the conditions of the armistice to withdraw into the interior of the city. The men of Belleville profited by the circumstance to pillage the powder magazines which had been entrusted to their charge, and on the following day they went, preceded by drums and trumpets, to the barracks of the Rue de la Pepiniere to invite the sailors lodged there to join them in a patriotic manifestation on that night. Believing that the object was to prevent the Prussians entering Paris, a certain number of these brave fellows, who had behaved so admirably during the siege, set out towards the Place de la Bastille but having been met on their way by some of their officers, they soon separated themselves from the rioters. Thirty of them had been invited to an open-air banquet in the Place de la Bastille; but seeing the probability of some disorder they nearly all retired, and on the following morning only eight of them were missing at the roll-call. Not one of the six thousand marines lodged in the barracks of the Ecole Militaire absented himself. On the same day, the 28th, a secret society, which we learned later to know and to fear, issued its first circular under the name of the Central Committee of the National Guard; the part since played by this body has been too important for us to omit to insert this proclamation here: its decisions became official acts which overthrew all constituted authority.



"The general feeling of the population appears to be to offer no opposition to the entry of the Prussians into Paris. The Central Committee, which had emitted contrary advice, declares its intention of adhering to the following resolutions:—

"'All around the quarters occupied by the enemy, barricades shall be raised so as to isolate completely that part of the town. The inhabitants of the circumscribed portion should be required to quit it immediately.

"'The National Guard, in conjunction with the army, shall form an unbroken line along the whole circuit, and take care that the enemy, thus isolated upon ground which is no longer of our city, shall communicate in no manner with any of the other parts of Paris.

"'The Central Committee engages the National Guard to lend, its aid for the execution of the necessary measures to bring about this result, and to avoid any aggressive acts which would have the immediate effect of overthrowing the Republic."'

But here is a little treacherous placard, manuscript and anonymous, which takes a much fairer tone:—

"A convention has permitted the Prussians to occupy the Champs Elysees, from the Seine to the Faubourg St. Honore, and as far as the Place de la Concorde.

"Be it so! The greater the injury, the more terrible the revenge.

"But, if some panderer dare to pass the circle of our shame, let him be instantly declared traitor, let him become a target for our balls, an object for our petroleum, a mark for our Orsini bombs,[2] an aim for our daggers!

"Let this be told to all.

"By decision of the Horatii,

"(Signed) POPULUS."

The effervescence in the minds of the people was so great, that the entry of the Prussians was delayed for forty-eight hours, but on the first of March, at ten in the morning, they had come into the city, and the smoke of their bivouac fires was seen in the Champs Elysees. On the evening of the same day, a telegram from Bordeaux announced that the National Assembly had ratified the preliminaries of peace by a majority of 546 voices against 107. On the following day the ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs left for Versailles, and by nine o'clock in the evening, everything was prepared for the evacuation of the troops, which was effected by eleven, on the third of March. During the short period of their stay, the city was in veritable mourning; the public edifices (even the Bourse) were closed, as were the shops, the warehouses, and the greater part of the cafes. At the windows hung black flags, or the tricolour covered with black crape, and veils of the same material concealed the faces of the statues[3] on the Place de la Concorde.

All these demonstrations had, however, a pacific character, and the presence of the enemy in Paris gave rise to no serious incident.

Nevertheless, the agitation of the public mind was not allayed; some attributed this to a plot the Socialists had formed, and which had arrived at maturity. Others believed that the Prussians had left emissaries, creators of disorder, behind them, in revenge for their reception on the Place de la Concorde. In truth, their entry was anything but triumphal; their national airs were received with hisses; their officers were hooted as they promenaded in the Tuileries, and those who attempted to visit the Louvre were compelled to retreat without having satisfied their curiosity. On the evening of the 3rd of March, a note emanating from the Ministry of the Interior, pointed out in the following terms the danger to be feared from the Central Committee:—

"Incidents of the most regrettable nature have occurred during the last few days, and menace seriously the peace of the capital. Certain National Guards in arms, following the orders, not of their legitimate chiefs, but of an anonymous Central Committee, which could not give them any instructions without committing a crime severely punishable by the law, took possession of a considerable quantity of arms and ammunition of war, under the pretext of saving them from the enemy, whose invasion they pretended to fear. Such acts should at any rate have ceased after the departure of the Prussian army. But such is not the case, for this evening the guard-house at the Gobelins was invaded, and a number of cartridges stolen.

"Those who provoke these disorders draw upon themselves a most terrible responsibility; it is at the very moment that the city of Paris, relieved from contact with the foreigner, desires to reassume its habits of serenity and industry, that these men are sowing trouble and preparing civil war. The Government appeals to all good citizens to aid in stifling in the germ these culpable manifestations.

"Let all who have at heart the honour and the peace of the city arise; let the National Guard, repulsing all perfidious instigations, rally round its officers, and prevent evils of which the consequences will be incalculable. The Government and the Commander-in-Chief (General d'Aurelle de Paladines, nominated on the same day by M. Thiers to the chief command of the National Guard) are determined to do their duty energetically; they will cause the laws to be executed; they count on the patriotism and the devotion of all the inhabitants of Paris."

It was indeed time to put a stop to the existing state of affairs, for already twenty-six guns were in the possession of the insurgents, who had formed a regular park of artillery in the Place d'Italie, and this is the aspect of the Buttes Montmartre on the sixth of March, as described by an eye-witness:—

"The heights have become a veritable camp. Three or four hundred National Guards, belonging partly to the 61st and 168th Battalions, mount guard there day and night, and relieve each other regularly, like old campaigners. They have two drummers and four trumpeters, who beat the rappel or ring out the charge whenever the freak takes them, without any one knowing why or wherefore. The officers, with broad red belts, high boots, and their long swords dragging after them, parade the Place with pipes or cigars in their months. They glance disdainfully at the passers-by, and seem almost overpowered with the importance of the high mission they imagine themselves called upon to fulfil. "This is of what their mission consists: at the moment of the entry of the Prussians into Paris, the National Guard of Montmartre, fearing that the artillery would be taken from them to be delivered to the enemy, assembled and dragged their pieces, about twenty in number, up to the plateau which forms the summit of Montmartre, and then placed them in charge of a special guard. Now that the Prussians have left, they still keep their stronghold, thinking to use it in the defence of the Republic against the attacks of the reactionists. The guns are pointed towards Paris, and guard is kept without a moment's relaxation. There are four principal posts, the most important being at the foot of the hill, on the Place Saint Pierre. The guards bivouac in the open air, their muskets piled, ready at hand. Sentinels are placed at the corner of each street, most of them lads of sixteen or seventeen; but they are thoroughly in earnest, and treat the passers-by roughly enough.

"All the streets which debouche on the Place Saint-Pierre are closed by barricades of paving-stones. The most important was formed of an overturned cart, filled with huge stones, and with a red flag reared upon the summit. A death-like silence reigned around. There were but few passers-by, none but National Guards with their guns on their shoulders."

The appearance of the Boulevard de Clichy and Boulevard Rochechouart is completely different. The cafes are overflowing with people, the concert-rooms open. Men and women pass tranquilly to and fro, without disturbing themselves about the cannon that are pointed towards them.

The Government, before coming to active measures, appealed to the good sense of the people in a proclamation, dated the 8th of March, saying that this substitution of legal authority by a secret power would retard the evacuation of the enemy, and perhaps expose us to disasters still more complete and terrible.

"Let us look our position calmly in the face. We have been conquered; nearly half of our territory has been in the power of a million of Germans, who have imposed upon us a fine of five milliards. Our only means of discharging this weighty debt is by the strictest economy, the most exemplary conduct and care. We must not lose a moment before putting our hands to work, which is our one and solitary hope. And at this awful moment shall our miserable folly lead us into a civil strife?...

"If, while they are meeting to treat with the enemy, our negotiators have sedition to fear, they will break down as they did on the 31st of October, when the events of the Hotel de Ville authorised the enemy to refuse us an armistice which might have saved us."

This form of reasoning was not illogical, but those who were working in secret for the furtherance of their own ambition, oared little to be convinced, and their myrmidons obeyed them blindly, and gloated over the wild, bombastic language of the demagogic press, which, though they did not understand it, impressed them no less with its inflated phrases.

The Government, perceiving that it would be perhaps necessary to use rigorous measures, gave orders to hasten the arrival of the rest of the Army of the North.

Some few days after the 18th of March, they resolved to deal a decided blow to the Democratic party in suppressing at once the Vengeur, the Mot d'Ordre, the Cri du Peuple, the Caricature, the Pere Duchesne, and the Bouche de Fer.

The National Guards had a perfect mania for collecting cannon; after having placed in battery the mitrailleuses and pieces of seven, the produce of patriotic subscriptions, they also seized upon others belonging to the State, and carried them off to the Buttes Montmartre, where they had about a hundred pieces. The retaking of this artillery was the matter in question. While they at Versailles were occupied with the solution of the problem, the National Guards continued their manifestations at the Place de la Bastille, dragging these pieces of artillery in triumph from the Champ de Mars to the Luxembourg, from the park of Montrouge to Notre Dame, from the Place des Vosges to the Place d'Italie, and from the Buttes Montmartre to the Buttes Chaumont.

Before making use of force, the Government desired to make a last effort at conciliation, and on the 17th of March the following proclamation was posted on the walls:—


"Once more we address ourselves to you, to your reason, and your patriotism, and we hope that you will listen to us.

"Your grand city, which cannot live except with order, is profoundly troubled in some of its quarters, and this trouble, without spreading to other parts, is sufficient nevertheless to prevent the return of industry and comfort.

"For some time a number of ill-advised men, under the pretext of resisting the Prussians, who are no longer within our walls, have constituted themselves masters of a part of the city, thrown up entrenchments, mounting guard there and forcing you to do the same, all by order of a secret committee, which takes upon itself to command a portion of the National Guard, thus setting aside the authority of General d'Aurelle de Paladines so worthy to be at your head, and would form a government in opposition to that which exists legally, the offspring of universal suffrage.

"These men, who have already caused you so much harm, whom you yourselves dispersed on the 31st of October, are placarding their intention to protect you against the Prussians, who have only made an appearance within our walls, and whose definite departure is retarded by these disorders, and pointing guns, which if fired would only ruin your houses and destroy your wives and yourselves; in fact, compromising the very Republic they pretend to defend; for if it is firmly established in the opinion of France that the Republic is the necessary companion of disorder, the Republic will be lost. Do not place any trust in them, but listen to the truth which we tell you in all sincerity.

"The Government instituted by the whole nation could have retaken before this these stolen guns, which at present only menace your safety, seized these ridiculous entrenchments which hinder nothing but business, and have placed in the hands of justice the criminals who do not hesitate to create civil war immediately after that with the foreigner, but it desired to give those who were misled the time to separate themselves from those who deceived them.

"However, the time allowed for honourable men to separate themselves from the others, and which is deducted from your tranquillity, your welfare, and the welfare of France, cannot be indefinitely prolonged.

"While such a state of things lasts, commerce is arrested, your shops are deserted, orders which would come from all parts are suspended; your arms are idle, credit cannot be recreated, the capital which the Government requires to rid the territory of the presence of the enemy, comes to hand but slowly. In your own interest, in that of your city, as well as in that of France, the Government is resolved to act. The culprits who pretend to institute a Government of their own must be delivered up to justice. The guns stolen from the State must be replaced in the arsenals; and, in order to carry out this act of justice and reason, the Government counts upon your assistance.

"Let all good citizens separate themselves from the bad; let them aid, instead of opposing, the public forces; they will thus hasten the return of comfort to the city, and render service to the Republic itself, which disorder is ruining in the opinion of France.

"Parisians! We use this language to you because we esteem your good sense, your wisdom, your patriotism; but, this warning being given, you will approve of our having resort to force at all costs, and without a day's delay, that order, the only condition of your welfare, be re-established entirely, immediately, and unalterably."

As soon as the party of disorder saw the intentions of the Government of Versailles thus set forth, a chorus of recriminations burst forth:—"They want to put an end to the Republic!"—"They are about to fire on our brothers!"—"They wish to set up a king," &c. The same strain for ever! In order to prevent as far as possible the mischievous effects of this insurrectionary propaganda, the Government issued the following proclamation, which bore date the 18th of March:—


"Absurd rumours are spread abroad that the Government contemplates a coup d'etat.

"The Government of the Republic has not, and cannot have, any other object but the welfare of the Republic.

"The measures which have been taken were indispensable to the maintenance of order; it was, and is still, determined to put an end to an insurrectionary committee, the members of which, nearly all unknown to the population of Paris, preach nothing but Communist doctrines, will deliver up Paris to pillage, and bring France into her grave, unless the National Guard and the army do not rise with one accord in the defence of the country and of the Republic."

The Government had many parleys with the insurrectionary National Guards at Montmartre; at one moment there was a rumour that the guns had been given up. It appeared that the guardians of this artillery had manifested some intention of restoring it, horses had even been sent without any military force to create mistrust, but the men declared that they would not deliver the guns, except to the battalions to which they properly belonged. Was there bad faith here? or had those who made the promise undertaken to deliver up the skin before they had killed the bear.

Public opinion shaped itself generally in somewhat the following form:—"If they are tricking each other, that is not very dangerous!"

Many an honest citizen went to bed on the seventeenth of March full of hope. He saw Paris marching with quick steps towards the re-establishment of its business, and the resumption of its usual aspect; the emigrants and foreigners would arrive in crowds, their pockets overflowing with gold to make purchases and put the industry of Paris under contributions the French and foreign bankers will rival each other to pay the indemnity of five milliards.

The dream of good M. Prudhomme[4] was, however, somewhat clouded by the figure of the Buttes Montmartre bristling with cannon; but the number of guards had become so diminished, and they seemed so tired of the business, that it appeared as if they were about to quit for good. The following chapter will inform you what were the waking thoughts of the Parisians on the morning of the eighteenth of March.


[Footnote 1: Memoir, see Appendix I.]

[Footnote 2: The police had seized, some time before, in Paris, ten thousand Orsini bombs, and hundreds of others of a new construction, charged with fulminating mercury.]

[Footnote 3: The eight gigantic female figures, representing the principal towns of France: Strasbourg, Lille, Metz, &c., &c.]

[Footnote 4: "Joseph Prudhomme" is the typical representative of the Parisian middle-class (Bourgeois); the honest simple father of family, peaceful but patriotic, proud of his country and ready to die for it.]


Listen! What does that mean? Is it a transient squall or the first gust of a tempest? Is it due to nature or to man's agency; is it an emeute or the advent of a revolution that is to overturn everything?

Such were my reflections when awakened, on the 18th of March, 1871, at about four in the morning, by a noise due to the tramp of many feet. From my window, in the gloomy white fog, I could see detachments of soldiers walking under the walls, proceeding slowly, wrapped in their grey capotes; a soft drizzling rain falling at the time. Half awake, I descended to the street in time to interrogate two soldiers passing in the rear.

"Where are you going?" asked I.—"We do not know," says one; "Report says we are going to Montmartre," adds the other.[5] They were really going to Montmartre. At five o'clock in the morning the 88th Regiment of the line occupied the top of the hill and the little streets leading to it, a place doubtless familiar to some of them, who on Sundays and fete days had clambered up the hill-sides in company with apple-faced rustics from the outskirts, and middle-class people of the quarter; taking part in the crowd on the Place Saint-Pierre, with its games and amusements, and "assisting," as they would say, at shooting in a barrel, admiring the ability of some, whilst reviling the stupidity of others; when they had a few sous in their pockets they would try their own skill at throwing big balls into the mouths of fantastic monsters, painted upon a square board, while their country friends nibbled at spice-nuts, and thought them delicious. But on this 18th of March morning there are no women, nor spice-nuts, nor sport on the Place Saint-Pierre: all is slush and dirt, and the poor lines-men are obliged to stand at ease, resting upon their arms, not in the best of humour with the weather or the prospect before them.

Ah! and the guns of the National Guard that frown from their embrasures on the top of the hill, have they been made use of against the Prussians? No! they have made no report during the siege, and were only heard on the days on which they were christened and paid for; elegant things, hardly to be blackened with powder, that it was always hoped would be pacific and never dangerous to the capital. Cruel irony! those guns for which Paris paid, and those American mitrailleuses, made out of the savings of both rich and poor, the farthings of the frugal housewife, and the napoleons of the millionaires; the contributions of the artists who designed, and the poets who pen'd, are ruining Paris instead of protecting it. The brass mouths that ate the bread of humanity are turned upon the nation itself to devour it also.

But, to return to the 88th Regiment of Line, did they take the guns? Yes, but they gave them up again, and to whom? why, to a crowd of women and children; and as to the chiefs, no one seemed to know what had become of them. It is related, however, that General Lecomte had been made a prisoner and led to the Chateau-Rouge, and that at nine o'clock some Chasseurs d'Afrique charged pretty vigorously in the Place Pigalle a detachment of National Guards, who replied by a volley of bullets. An officer of Chasseurs was shot, and his men ran away, the greater part, it is said, into the wine-shops, where they fraternised with the patriots, who offered them drink. I was told on the spot that General Vinoy, who was on horseback, became encircled in a mob of women, had a stone and a cap[6] thrown at him, and thought it prudent to escape, leaving the National Guards and linesmen to promenade in good fellowship three abreast, dispersing themselves about the outer boulevards and about Paris. Indeed, I have just seen a drunken couple full of wine and friendship, strongly reminding one of a duel ending in a jolly breakfast. And who is to blame for this? Nobody knows. All agree that it is a bungle,—the fault of maladministration and want of tact. Certainly the National Guards at Montmartre had no right to hold the cannons belonging to the National Guards, as a body, or to menace the reviving trade and tranquillity of Paris, by means of guns turned against its peaceful citizens and Government officials; but was it necessary to use violence to obtain possession of the cannons? Should not all the means of conciliation be exhausted first, and might we not hope that the citizens at Montmartre would themselves end by abandoning the pieces of artillery[7] which they hardly protected. In fact, they were encumbered by their own barricades, and they might take upon themselves to repave their streets and return to order.

Monsieur Thiers and his ministers were not of that opinion. They preferred acting, and with vigour. Very well! but when resolutions are formed, one should be sure of fulfilling them, for in circumstances of such importance failure itself makes the attempt an error.[8]

Well! said the Government, who could imagine that the line would throw up the butt ends of their muskets,[9] or that the Chasseurs, after the loss of a single officer, would turn their backs upon the Nationals, and that their only deeds should be the imbibing of plentiful potations at the cost of the insurgents? But how could it be otherwise? Not many days since the soldiers were wandering idly through the streets with the National Guards; were billeted upon the people, eating their soup and chatting with their wires and daughters, unaccustomed to discipline and the rigour of military organisation; enervated by defeat, having been maintained by their officers in the illusion of their invincibility; annoyed by their uniform, of which they ceased to be proud, the humiliated soldiers sought to escape into the citizen. Were the commanding officers ignorant of the prevailing spirit of the troops? Must we admit that they were grossly deceived, or that they deceived the Government, when the latter might and ought to have been in a position to foresee the result. Possibly the Assembly had the right to coerce, but they had no right to be ignorant of their power. They must have known that 100,000 arms (chassepots, tabatieres,[10] and muskets) were in the hands of disaffected men, clanking on the floors of the dealers in adulterated wines and spirits, and low cabarets. The fact is, the Government took a leap in the dark, and wondered when they found the position difficult.


[Footnote 5: Appendix, note 2.]

[Footnote 6: A mark of insult.]

[Footnote 7: This useless artillery was much ridiculed; jokers said that the notary of General Trochu was working out faithfully the "plan" of his illustrious client in these tardy fortifications.]

[Footnote 8: How was the Government to act in the presence of these facts; to await events, or to strike a great blow?

Some think that the resistance of the insurgents was strengthened by the measures taken by Government, which ought to have been more diplomatic and skilful. The agitation of these men of Montmartre, at the entry of the Prussians, had calmed down in a few hours; it was now the duty of Government to allay the irritation which had caused the insurgents to form their Montmartre stronghold, and not to follow the advice of infuriated reactionaries, who make no allowance for events and circumstances, neither analysing the elements of that which they are combating, nor weighing the measures they do not even know how to apply with tact.

The guns had not been re-taken, but Paris was very calm. Dissensions had broken out in the Montmartre Committee, some of whose members wished the cannon to be returned (the Committee sat at No, 8 of the Rue des Rosiers, with a court-martial on one hand, and military head-quarters on the other). Danger seemed now to be averted, and the authorities had but one thing to do, to allow all agitation to die out, without listening to blind or treacherous counsellors, who advocated a system of immediate repression. It was said, however, that the greater number of the members of Government were inclined to temporise, but the provisional appointment of General Valentin to the direction of the Prefecture of Police, seemed to contradict this assertion.

During this time, the leaders who held Montmartre, spurred on by the ambitious around them, and by those desirous of kindling civil war for the sake of the illicit gains to be obtained from it, were getting up a manifestation, which was to claim for the National Guard the right of electing its commander-in-chief; and the post was to be offered to Menotti Garibaldi. But though the men of Montmartre declared that all who did not sign the manifestos were traitors, yet the addresses remained almost entirely blank. The insurrection had evidently few supporters. According to others, the insurrection of 1871 was the result of a vast conspiracy, planned and nurtured under the influence of a six months' siege. No simple Paris emeute, but a grand social movement, organised by the great and universal revolutionary power; the Societe Internationale, Garibaldiism, Mazziniism, and Fenianism, have given each other rendezvous in Paris. Cluseret, the American; Frankel, the Prussian; Dombrowski, the Russian; Brunswick, the Lithuanian; Romanelli, the Italian; Okolowitz, the Pole; Spillthorn, the Belgian; and La Cecilia, Wroblewski, Wenzel, Hertzfel, Bozyski, Syneck, Prolowitz, and a hundred others, equally illustrious, brought together from every quarter of the globe; such were these ardent conspirators, all imbued, like their colleagues the Flourens, the Eudes, the Henrys, the Duvals, and tutti quanti, with the principles of the French school of democracy and socialism.

This strong and terrible band, we are told, is under the command of a chief who remains hidden and mute, while ostensibly it obeys the Pyats, Delescluzes, and Rocheforts, politicians, who not being generals, never condescend to fight.

In the first days of March all was prepared for a coming explosion, and in spite of the departure of the Prussians, the Socialist party determined that it should take place. (Guerre des Communeux, p. 61.)]

[Footnote 9: A sign that they refused to fight.]

[Footnote 10: A smooth-bore musket arranged as breech-loader, and called a snuff-box, from the manner of opening the breech to adjust the charge.]


At three o'clock in the afternoon there was a dense group of linesmen and Nationals in one of the streets bordering on the Elysee-Montmartre. The person who told us this did not recollect the name of the street, but men were eagerly haranguing the crowd, talking of General Lecomte, and his having twice ordered the troops to fire upon the citizen militia.

"And what he did was right," said an old gentleman who was listening.

Words that were no sooner uttered than they provoked a torrent of curses and imprecations from the by-standers. But he continued observing that General Lecomte had only acted under the orders of his superiors; being commanded to take the guns and to disperse the crowd, his only duty was to obey.

These remarks being received in no friendly spirit, hostility to the stranger increased, when a vivandiere approached, and looking the gentleman who had exposed himself to the fury of the mob full in the face, exclaimed, "It is Clement Thomas!" And in truth it was General Clement Thomas; he was not in uniform. A torrent of abuse was poured forth by a hundred voices at once, and the anger of the crowd seemed about to extend itself to violence, when a ruffian cried out: "You defend the rascal Lecomte! Well, we'll put you both together, and a pretty pair you'll be!" and this project being approved of, the General was hurried, not without having to submit to fresh insults, to where General Lecomte had been imprisoned since the morning.

From this moment the narrative I have collected differs but little from that circulated through Paris.

At about four o'clock in the afternoon the two generals were conducted from their prison by a hundred National Guards, the hands of General Lecomte being bound together, whilst those of Clement Thomas were free. In this manner they were escorted to the top of the hill of Montmartre, where they stopped before No. 6 of the Rue des Rosiers: it is a little house I had often seen, a peaceful and comfortable habitation, with a garden in front. What passed within it perhaps will never be known. Was it there that the Central Committee of the National Guard held their sittings in full conclave? or were they represented by a few of its members? Many persons think that the house was not occupied, and that the National Guards conducted their prisoners within its walls to make the crowd believe they were proceeding to a trial, or at least to give the appearance of legality to the execution of premeditated acts. Of one thing there remains little doubt, namely, that soldiers of the line stood round about at the time, and that the trial, if any took place, was not long, the condemned being conducted to a walled enclosure at the end of the street.

[Illustration: HOTEL DE VILLE, AS FORTIFIED BY THE NATIONAL GUARD, MARCH, 1871. The Hotel de Ville of Paris, which witnessed so many national ceremonies and republican triumphs, was commenced in 1533, and it was finished in 1628. Here the first Bourbon, Henry IV., celebrated his entry into Paris after the siege of 1589, and Bailly the maire, on the 17th July, 1789, presented Louis XVI. to the people, wearing a tricolor cockade. Henry IV. became a Catholic in order to enter "his good city of Paris" whilst Louis XVI. wore the democratic insignia in order to keep it. A few days later the 172 commissioners of sections, representing the municipality of Paris, established the Commune. The Hotel de Ville was the seat of the First Committee of Public Safety, and from the green chamber, Robespierre governed the Convention and France till his fall on the 9th Thermidor. From 1800 to 1830 fetes held the place of political manifestations. In 1810 Bonaparte received Marie-Louise here; in 1821, the baptism of the Duke of Bordeaux was celebrated here; in 1825 fetes were given to the Duc d'Angouleme on his return from Spain, and to Charles X., arriving from Rheims. Five years later, from the same balcony where Bailly presented Louis XVI. to the people, Lafayette, standing by the side of Louis Philippe, said, "This is the best of Republics!" It was here, in 1848, that De Lamartine courageously declared to an infuriated mob that, as long as he lived, the red flag should not be the flag of France. During the fatal days of June, 1848, the Hotel de Ville was only saved from destruction by the intrepidity of a few brave men. The Queen of England was received here in 1865, and the sovereigns who visited Paris since have been feted therein. On the 4th of September the bloodless revolution was proclaimed; and on the 31st of October, 1870, and the 22nd of January, 1871, Flourens and Blanqui made a fruitless attempt to substitute the red flag for the tricolor; but their partisans succeeded on the 18th of March, when it was fortified, and became the head-quarters of the Commune of 1871.]

As soon as they had halted, an officer of the National Guard seized General Clement Thomas by the collar of his coat and shook him violently several times, exclaiming, whilst he held the muzzle of a revolver close to his throat,—"Confess that you have betrayed the Republic." To this Monsieur Clement Thomas only replied by a shrug of his shoulders; upon this the officer retired, leaving the General standing alone in the front of the wall, with a line of soldiers opposite.

Who gave the signal to fire is unknown, but a report of twenty muskets rent the air, and General Clement Thomas fell with his face to the earth.

"It is your turn now," said one of the assassins, addressing General Lecomte, who immediately advanced from the crowd, stepping over the body of Clement Thomas to take his place, awaiting with his back to the wall the fatal moment.

"Fire!" cried the officer, and all was over.

Half an hour after, in the Rue des Acacias, I came across an old woman who wanted three francs for a bullet—a bullet she had extracted from the plaster of a wall at the end of the Rue des Rosiers.


It is ten o'clock in the evening, and if I were not so tired I would go to the Hotel de Ville, which, I am told, has been taken possession of by the National Guards; the 18th of March is continuing the 31st of October. But the events of this day have made me so weary that I can hardly write all I have seen and heard. On the outer boulevards the wine shops are crowded with tipsy people, the drunken braggarts who boast they have made a revolution. When a stroke succeeds there are plenty of rascals ready to say: I did it. Drinking, singing, and talking are the order of the day. At every step you come upon "piled arms." At the corner of the Passage de l'Elysee-des-Beaux-Arts I met crowds of people, some lying on the ground; here a battalion standing at ease but ready to march; and at the entrance of the Rue Blanche and the Rue Fontaine were some stones, ominously posed one on the other, indicating symptoms of a barricade. In the Rue des Abbesses I counted three cannons and a mitrailleuse, menacing the Rue des Martyrs. In the Rue des Acacias, a man had been arrested, and was being conducted by National Guards to the guard-house: I heard he was a thief. Such arrests are characteristic features in a Parisian emeute. Notwithstanding these little scenes the disorder is not excessive, and but for the multitude of men in uniform one might believe it the evening of a popular fete; the victors are amusing themselves.

Among the Federals this evening there are very few linesmen; perhaps they have gone to their barracks to enjoy their meal of soup and bread.

Upon the main boulevards noisy groups are commenting upon the events of the day. At the corner of the Rue Drouot an officer of the 117th Battalion is reading in a loud voice, or rather reciting, for he knows it all by heart, the proclamation of M. Picard, the official poster of the afternoon.

"The Government appeals to you to defend your city, your home, your children, and your property.

"Some frenzied men, commanded by unknown chiefs, direct against Paris the guns defended from, the Prussians.

"They oppose force to the National Guard and the army.

"Will you suffer it?

"Will you, under the eyes of the strangers ready to profit by our discord, abandon Paris to sedition?

"If you do not extinguish it in the germ, the Republic and France will be ruined for ever.

"Their destiny is in your hands.

"The Government desires that you should hold your arms energetically to maintain the law and preserve the Republic from anarchy. Gather round your leaders; it is the only means of escaping ruin and the domination of the foreigner.

"The Minister of the Interior,


The crowd listened with attention, shouted two or three times "To arms!" and then dispersed—I thought for an instant, to arm themselves, though in reality it was only to reinforce another group forming on the other side of the way.

This day the Friends of Order have been very apathetic, so much so that Paris is divided between two parties: the one active and the other passive.

To speak truly, I do not know what the population of Paris could have done to resist the insurrection. "Gather round your chiefs," says the proclamation. This is more easily said than done, when we do not know what has become of them. The division caused in the National Guard by the Coup d'Etat of the Central Committee had for its consequence the disorganisation of all command. Who was to distinguish, and where was one to find the officers that had remained faithful to the cause of order?

It is true they sounded the "rappel"[11] and beat the "generale";[12] but who commanded it? Was it the regular Government or the revolutionary Committee?

More than one good citizen was ready to do his duty; but, after having put on his uniform and buckled his belt, he felt very puzzled, afraid of aiding the entente instead of strengthening the defenders of the law. Therefore the peaceful citizen soldiers regarded not the call of the trumpet and the drum.

It is wise to stay at home when one knows not where to go. Besides, the line has not replied, and bad examples are contagious; moreover, is it fair to demand of fathers of families, of merchants and tradesmen, in fact of soldiers of necessity, an effort before which professional soldiers withdraw? The fact is the Government had fled. Perhaps a few ministers still remained in Paris, but the main body had gone to join the Assembly at Versailles.

I do not blame their somewhat precipitate departure,[13] perhaps it was necessary; nevertheless it seems to me that their presence would have put an end to irresolution on the part of timid people.

Meanwhile, from the Madeleine to the Gymnase, the cafes overflowed with swells and idlers of both sexes. On the outer boulevards they got drunk, and on the inner tipsy, the only difference being in the quality of the liquors imbibed.

What an extraordinary people are the French!


[Footnote 11: The roll call.]

[Footnote 12: Muster call in time of danger, which is beaten only by a superior order emanating from the Commander-in-chief in a stronghold or garrison town.]

[Footnote 13: The army of Paris was drawn off to Versailles in the night of the 18th of March, and on the 19th, the employes of all the ministries and public offices left Paris for the same destination.

On the 19th of March, as early as eight in the morning, Monsieur Thiers addressed the following circular to the authorities of all the departments:—

"The whole of the Government is assembled at Versailles: the National Assembly will meet there also.

"The army, to the number of forty thousand men, has been assembled there in good order, under the command of General Vinoy. All the chiefs of the army, and all the civil authorities have arrived there.

"The civil and military authorities will execute no other orders but those issued by the legitimate government residing at Versailles, under penalty of dismissal.

"The members of the National Assembly are all requested to hasten their return, so as to be present at the sitting of the 20th of March.

"The present despatch will be made known to the public.



Next morning, the 19th of March, I was in haste to know the events of last night, what attitude Paris had assumed after her first surprise. The night, doubtless, had brought counsel, and perhaps settled the discord existing between the Government and the Central Committee.

Early in the morning things appeared much as usual; the streets were peaceful, servants shopping, and the ordinary passengers going to and fro. In passing I met a casual acquaintance to whom I had spoken now and then, a man with whom I had served during the siege when we mounted guard on the ramparts. "Well," said I, "good morning, have you any news?"—"News," replied he, "no, not that I know of. Ah I yes, there is a rumour that something took place yesterday at Montmartre." This was told me in the centre of the city, in the Rue de la Grange-Bateliere. Truly there are in Paris persons marvellously apathetic and ignorant. I would wager not a little that by searching in the retired quarters, some might be found who believe they are still governed by Napoleon III., and have never heard of the war with Prussia, except as a not improbable eventuality.

On the boulevards there was but little excitement. The newspaper vendors were in plenty. I do not like to depend upon these public sheets for information, for however impartial or sincere a reporter may be, he cannot represent facts otherwise than according to the impression they make upon him, and to value facts by the impression they make upon others is next to impossible.

I directed my steps to the Rue Drouot in search of placards, and plentiful I found them, and white too, showing that Paris was not without a government; for white is the official colour even under a red Republic.[14]

Taking out a pencil I copied hastily the proclamation of the new masters, and I think that I did well, for we forget very quickly both proclamations and persons. Where are they now, the official bills of last year?

"REPUBLIQUE FRANCAISE. "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite. "To the People.

"Citizens,—The people of Paris have shaken off the yoke endeavoured to be imposed upon them."

What yoke, gentlemen—I beg pardon, citizens of the Committee? I assure you, as part of the people, that I have never felt that any one has tried to impose one upon me. I recollect, if my memory serves me, that a few guns were spoken of, but nothing about yokes. Then the expression "People of Paris," is a gross exaggeration. The inhabitants of Montmartre and their neighbours of that industrious suburb are certainly a part of the people, and not the less respectable or worthy of our consideration because they live out of the centre (indeed, I have always preferred a coal man of the Chaussee Clignancourt to a coxcomb of the Rue Taitbout); but for all that, they are not the whole population. Thus, your sentence does not imply anything, and moreover, with all its superannuated metaphor, the rhetoric is out of date. I think it would have been better to say simply—

"Citizens,—The inhabitants of Montmartre and of Belleville have taken their guns and intend to keep them."

But then it would not have the air of a proclamation. Extraordinary fact! you may overturn an entire country, but you must not touch the official style; it is immutable. One may triumph over empires, but must respect red tape. Let us read on:

"Tranquil, calm in our force, we have awaited without fear as without provocation, the shameless madmen who menaced the Republic."

The Republic? Again an improper expression, it was the cannons they wanted to take.

"This time, our brothers of the army...."

Ah! your brothers of the army! They are your brothers because they fraternised and threw up the butt-ends of their muskets. In your family you acknowledge no brotherhood except those who hold the same opinion.

"This time, our brothers of the army would not raise their hands against the holy ark of our liberty."

Oh! So the guns are a holy ark now. A very holy metaphor, for people not greatly enamoured of churchmen.

"Thanks for all; and let Paris and France unite to build a Republic, and accept with acclamations the only government that will close for ever the flood gates of invasion and civil war.

"The state of siege is raised.

"The people of Paris are convoked in their sections to elect a Commune. The safety of all citizens is assured by the body of the National Guard.

"Hotel de Ville of Paris, the 19th of March, 1871.

"The Central Committee of the National Guard:

"Assy, Billioray, Ferrat, Babick, Ed. Moreau, Oh. Dupont, Varlin, Boursier, Mortier, Gouhier, Lavallette, Fr. Jourde, Rousseau, Ch. Lullier, Blanchet, G. Gaillard, Barroud, H. Geresme, Fabre, Pougeret."[15]

There is one reproach that the new Parisian Revolution could not be charged with; it is that of having placed at the head men of proved incapacity. Those who dared to assert that each of the persons named above had not more genius than would be required to regenerate two or three nations would greatly astonish me. In a drama of Victor Hugo it is said a parentless child ought to be deemed a gentleman; thus an obscure individual ought, on the same terms, to be considered a man of genius.

But on the walls of the Rue Drouot many more proclamations were to be seen.



"To the National Guards of Paris.

"CITIZENS,—You had entrusted us with the charge of organising the defence of Paris and of your rights."

Oh! as to that, no; a thousand times, no! I admit—since you appear to cling to it—that Cannon are an ark of strength, but under no pretext whatever will I allow that I entrusted you with the charge of organising anything whatsoever. I know nothing of you; I have never heard you spoken of. There is no one in the world of whom I am more ignorant than Ferrat, Babick, unless it be Gaillard and Pougeret (though I was national guard myself, and caught cold on the ramparts for the King of Prussia[16] as much as anyone else). I neither know what you wish nor where you are leading those who follow you; and I can prove to you, if you like, that there are at least a hundred thousand men who caught cold too, and who, at the present moment, are in exactly the same state of mind concerning you "We are aware of having fulfilled our mission."

You are very good to have taken so much trouble, but I have no recollection of having given you a mission to fulfil of any kind whatever!

"Assisted by your courage and presence of mind!..."

Ah, gentlemen, this is flattery!

"We have driven out the government that was betraying you.

"Our mandate has now expired..."

Always this same mandate which we gave you, eh?

"We now return it to you, for we do not pretend to take the place of those which the popular breath has overthrown.

"Prepare yourselves, let the Communal election commence forthwith, and give to us the only reward we have ever hoped for—that of seeing the establishment of a true republic. In the meanwhile we retain the Hotel de Ville in the name of the people.

"Hotel de Ville, Paris, 19th March, 1871.

"The Central Committee of the National Guards:

"Assy, Billioray, and others."

Placarded up also is another proclamation[17] signed by the citizens Assy, Billioray, and others, announcing that the Communal elections will take place on Wednesday next, 22nd of March, that is to say in three days.

This then is the result of yesterday's doings, and the revolution of the 18th March can be told in a few words.

There were cannon at Montmartre; the Government wished to take them but was not able, thanks to the fraternal feeling and cowardice of the soldiers of the Line. A secret society, composed of several delegates of several battalions, took advantage of the occasion to assert loudly that they represented the entire population, and commanded the people to elect the Commune of Paris—whether they wished or not.

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