Page images
PDF
EPUB

LOUIS ADOLPHE THIERS 613

necessary; but the matter is settled in principle, and the public domain will supply the funds which the Treasury refuses. By whom is this torrent of expenditure to be arrested 2 By yourselves, gentlemen Your wisdom, courage and patriotism can alone achieve the task. Your responsibility is great, especially in financial matters; in politics your powers may be contested to a certain extent, but in questions of finance they are undisputed. In finances you, therefore, are responsible for everything. It is time to halt in this course of expenditure, and not to imitate those sinners who are always talking of reforming and, after all, die in financial impenitence. We are often told that financial science is obscure, but the assertion is untrue. Sciences are never obscure, except through the dullness of those who expound them, or the charletanism of those who assume a false air of profundity. I will take my examples from private life. Let us suppose two fathers; one methodical, strict and somewhat morose; the other easy and good natured. The former will regulate his expenditure according to his income, and fix limits which he will not pass; during the year this may cause some deprivation to himself and his family, but when settling day comes he has neither anxiety nor embarrassment. The latter takes no such precautions; he passes quietly through the year, restricting neither his own expenditure nor that of his family; but when he settles his accounts he finds he has exceeded his income, and is obliged to encroach on his capital to pay his debts; and thus he goes on from year to year, with ever-increasing embarrassment, until ruin stares him in the face. The stern father, meanwhile, has preserved or even increased his estate, and taught his children that which will be useful to them through life. As in private life, so it is in public affairs. Statesmen have the same passions as other men, and it is only by resisting these passions that they can save the State . I ask your pardon for speaking so warmly, but it is impossible to treat a graver or more interesting subject. I repeat that you are running toward the double rock, either of failing in your engagements, or of rendering inevitable the imposition of various taxes which may give rise to deplorable divisions. I abjure you to reflect most seriously on this state of affairs. You are on the brink of a financial gulf if you persist in the present course. I ask pardon for distressing you, but it is my duty to tell you the truth, and I tell it, whatever the result may be.

VICTOR MARIE HUGO (1802-1885)
POET, DRAMATIST, NOVELIST, AND ORATOR

RANCE has produced, among her many brilliant orators, but F one Victor Hugo, a man “everything by turns" and always great. As a novelist, many look upon him as the greatest of the century, and regard his “Les Miserables” as a work peerless of its kind. As poet, as dramatist, he stood also in the first rank. And as an orator, no Frenchman has surpassed him but Mirabeau. He was an orator in grain ; his prose works read like animated speeches. He was as fearless as he was able. He did not hesitate to attack Louis Napoleon with trenchant bitterness during his climb to power, closing one of his attacks with the stinging words: “What after Augustus must we have Augustulus? Because we had a Napoleon the Great must we now have Napoleon the Little 2 ”

NAPOLEON THE LITTLE

[When Louis Napoleon seized the throne Victor Hugo went into exile. It was impossible for him to keep still with this small usurper on the throne of his great uncle, and he sought a refuge where he could speak his mind freely. How freely he spoke may be seen from the oration we append. He had the art of making vivid and telling sentences, and of such this outburst of patriotic passion is largely made up.]

I have entered the lists with the actual ruler of Europe, for it is well for the world that I should exhibit the picture. Louis Bonaparte is the intoxication of triumph. He is the incarnation of merry yet savage despotism. He is the mad plentitude of power seeking for limits, but finding them not, neither in men nor facts. Louis Bonaparte holds France— Urbem Romam habet; and he who holds France holds the world. He is master of the votes, master of consciences, master of the people; he names his successor, does away with eternity, and places the future in a sealed envelope. His Senate, his Legislative Body, with lowered heads,

VICTOR MARIE HUGO 615

creep behind him and lick his heels. He takes up or drops the bishops and cardinals; he tramples upon justice which curses him, and upon judges who worship him. Thirty eager newspaper correspondents inform the world that he has frowned, and every electric wire quivers if he raises his little finger. Around him is heard the clanking of the sabre and the roll of the drum. He is seated in the shadow of eagles, begirt by ramparts and bayonets. Free people tremble and conceal their liberty lest he should rob them of it. The great American Republic even hesitates before him, and dares not withdraw her ambassador. Kings look at him with a smile from the midst of their armies, though their hearts be full of dread. Where will he begin 2 Belgium, Switzerland, or Piedmont? Europe awaits his invasion. He is able to do as he wishes, and he dreams of impossibilities. Well, this master, this triumphant conqueror, this vanquisher, this dictator, this emperor, this all-powerful man, one lonely man, robbed and ruined, dares to rise up and attack. Louis Napoleon has ten thousand cannons and five hundred thousand soldiers; I have but a pen and a bottle of ink, I am a mere nothing, a grain of dust, a shadow, an exile without a home, a vagrant without even a passport; but I have at my side two mighty auxiliaries, God, who is invincible, and Truth, which is immortal. Certainly, Providence might have chosen a more illustrious champion for this duel to the death ; some stronger athlete——but what matters the man when it is the cause that fights 2 However it may be, it is good for the world to gaze upon this spectacle. For what is it but intelligence striking against brute force 2 I have but one stone for my sling ; but it is a good one, for its name is Justice ‘ I am attacking Louis Bonaparte when he is at the height and zenith of his power, at the hour when all bend before him. All the better; this is what suits me best. Yes, I attack Louis Bonaparte; I attack him openly, before all the world. I attack him before God and man. I attack him boldly and recklessly for love of the people and for love of France. He is going to be an emperor. Let him be one ; but let him remember that, though you may secure an empire, you cannot secure an easy conscience This is the man by whom France is governed Governed, do I say ? —possessed in supreme and sovereign sway ! And every day, and every morning, by his decrees, by his messages, by all the incredible drivel which he parades in the Moniteur, this emigrant, who knows not France, teaches France her lesson ; and this ruffian tells France he has saved her And from whom 2 From herself Before him, Providence committed only follies; God was waiting for him to reduce everything to order ; at

616 VICTOR MARIE HUGO

last he has come ! For thirty-six years there had been in France all sorts of pernicious things, the tribune, a vociferous thing; the press, an obstreperous thing; thought, an insolent thing; and liberty, the most crying abuse of all. But he came, and for the tribune he has substituted the Senate; for the press, the censorship; for thought, imbecility; and for liberty, the sabre; and by the sabre and the Senate, by imbecility and censorship, France is saved. Saved, bravo And from whom, I repeat? From herself. For what has this France of ours, if you please ? A herd of marauders and thieves; of anarchists, assassins, and demagogues. She had to be manacled, had this mad woman, France; and it is Monsieur Bonaparte Louis who puts the handcuffs on her. Now she is in a dungeon, on 3-diet of bread and water, punished, humiliated, garroted, safely cared ...?. not disturbed, Monsieur Bonaparte, a policeman stationed at the Elysee is answerable for her in Europe. He makes it his business to be so; this wretched France is in the strait-jacket, and if she stirs—Ah, what is this spectacle before our eyes o Is it a dream 2 Is it a nightmare 2 On one side a nation, the first of Isations, and on the other, a man, the last of men ; and this is what this man does to this nation. What! he tramples her under his feet, he laughs in her face, he mocks and taunts her, he disowns, insults, and flouts her | What he says, “I alone am worthy of consideration 1 '' What in this land of France, where none would dare to slap the face of his fellow, this man can slap the face of the nation ? Oh, the abominable shame of it all ! Every time that Monsieur Bonaparte spits, every face must be wiped And this can last ! and you tell me it will last ! No | No 1 by every drop in every vein, no | It shall not last ! Ah, if this did last, it would be in very truth because there would no longer be a God in heaven, nor a France on earth !

THE HEROISM OF VOLTAIRE

[On the centennial anniversary of Voltaire's death, May 30, 1878, Hugo made

at Paris the following eloquent address.] One hundred years ago to-day a man died He died immortal, laden with years, with labors, and with the most illustrious and formidable of responsibilities—the responsibility of the human conscience informed and corrected. He departed amid the curses of the past and the blessings of the future—and these are the two superb forms of glory !—dying amid the acclamations of his comtemporaries and of posterity, on the one hand, and on the other with the hootings and hatreds bestowed by the implacable past on those who combat it. He was more than a man—he was an epoch He had done his work; he had fulfilled his mission evidently

VICTOR MARIE HUGO 617

, chosen for him by the Supreme Will, which manifests itself as visibly in
the laws of destiny as in the laws of nature. The eighty-four years he
had lived bridge over the interval between the apogee of the Monarchy
and the dawn of the Revolution. At his birth, Louis XIV. still reigned;
at his death Louis XVI. had already mounted the throne; so that his
cradle saw the last rays of the great throne and his coffin the first beams
from the great abyss. . . . .
The court was full of festivities; Versailles was radiant; Paris was
ignorant; and meanwhile, through religious ferocity, judges killed an old
man on the wheel and tore out a child's tongue for a song. Confronted
by this frivolous and dismal society, Voltaire alone, sensible of all the
forces marshaled against him—court, nobility, finance; that unconscious
power, the blind multitude; that terrible magistracy, so oppressive for the
subject, so docile for the master, crushing and flattering, kneeling on the
people before the king ; that clergy, a sinister medley of hypocrisy and
fanaticism—Voltaire alone declared war against this coalition of all social
iniquities—against that great and formidable world. He accepted battle
with it. What was his weapon 2 That which hath the lightness of the
wind and the force of a thunderbolt—a pen. With that weapon Voltaire
fought, and with that he conquered Let us salute that memory ! He

conquered He waged a splendid warfare—the war of one alone against

all ; the grand war of mind against matter, of reason against prejudice; a war for the just against the unjust, for the oppressed against the oppressor, the war of goodness, the war of kindness | He had the tenderness of a woman and the anger of a hero. His was a great mind and an immense heart. He conquered the old code, the ancient dogma . He conquered the feudal lord, the Gothic judge, the Roman priest. He bestowed on the populace the dignity of the people ! He taught, pacified, civilized He fought for the Sirven and Montbailly as for Calas and Labarre. Regardless of menaces, insults, persecutions, calumny, exile, he was indefatigable and imovable. He overcame violence by a smile, despotism by sarcasm, infallibility by irony, obstinacy by perseverance, ignorance by truth !

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »