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Paris under the Commune The Seventy-Three Days of the Second Siege; with Numerous Illustrations, Sketches Taken on the Spot, and Portraits (from the Original Photographs) online

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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.

MARCH, 1871. The Hôtel 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
Hôtel 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 fêtes 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 fêtes 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 Hôtel 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 fêted
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 Clément 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 Clément 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 Clément Thomas fell with his face to the

"It is your turn now," said one of the assassins, addressing General
Lecomte, who immediately advanced from the crowd, stepping over the body
of Clément 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 Hôtel 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'Elysée-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 émeute. 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 fête; the victors are
amusing themselves.

[Illustration: Sentinels, Rue Du Val De Grâce and Boulevard St. Michel.]

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

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

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

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 cafés 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 employés 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

"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

"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-Batelière.
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

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

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?

"RÉPUBLIQUE FRANÇAISE. "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. "_To the

"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 Chaussée 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.

"Hôtel 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,

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



"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

"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 Hôtel de Ville in the name of the people.

"Hôtel 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

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.

What will Paris do now between these dictators, sprung from heaven knows
where, and the Government fled to Versailles?


[Footnote 14: No one may use white placards - they are reserved by the

The following is an extract from the _Official Journal_ of Versailles,
bearing the date of the 20th of March, which explains the official form
of the announcements made by the Central Committee: -

"Yesterday, 19th March, the offices of the _Official Journal_, in Paris,
were broken into, the employés having escaped to Versailles with the
documents, to join the Government and the National Assembly. The
invaders took possession of the printing machines, the materials, and
even the official and non-official articles which had been set up in
type, and remained in the composing-rooms. It is thus that they were
enabled to give an appearance of regularity to the publication of their
decrees, and to deceive the Parisian public by a false _Official

[Footnote 15: Here is an extract from the _Official Journal_ upon the
subject (numbers of the 29th March and 1st June): -

"In the insurrection, the momentary triumph of which has crushed Paris
beneath so odious and humiliating a yoke, carried the distresses of
France to their height, and put civilisation in peril, the International
Society has borne a part which has suddenly revealed to all the fatal
power of this dangerous association.

"On the 19th of March, the day after the outbreak of the terrible
sedition, of which the last horrors will form one of the most frightful
pages in history, there appeared upon the walls a placard which made
known to Paris the names of its new masters.

"With the exception of one, alone, (Assy), who had acquired a deplorable
notoriety, these names were unknown to almost all who read them; they
had suddenly emerged from utter obscurity, and people asked themselves
with astonishment, with stupor, what unseen power could have given them
an influence and a meaning which they did not possess in themselves.
This power was the International; these names were those of some of its

[Footnote 16: _Travailler pour le Roi de Prusse_, "to work for the King
of Prussia," is an old French saying, which means to work for nothing,
to no purpose.]


"Inasmuch: -

"That it is most urgent that the Communal administration of the City of
Paris shall be formed immediately,

"Decrees: -

"1st. The elections for the Communal Council of the City of Paris will
take place on Wednesday next, the 22nd of March.

"2nd. The electors will vote with lists, and in their own

"Each arrondissement will elect a councillor for each twenty thousand of
inhabitants, and an extra one for a surplus of more than ten thousand.

"3rd. The poll will be open from eight in the morning to six in the
evening. The result will be made known at once.

"4th. The municipalities of the twenty arrondissements are entrusted with
the proper execution of the present decree.

"A placard indicating the number of councillors for each arrondissement
will shortly be posted up.

"Hôtel de Ville, Paris, 29th March, 1871."]


Paris remains inactive, and watches events as one watches running water.
What does this indifference spring from? Surprise and the disappearance
of the chiefs might yesterday have excused the inaction of Paris, but
twenty-four hours have passed over, every man has interrogated his
conscience, and been able to listen to its answer. There has been time
to reconnoitre, to concert together; there would have been time to act!

Why is nothing done? Why has nothing been done yet? Generals Clément
Thomas and Lecomte have been assassinated; this is as incontestable as
it is odious. Does all Paris wish to partake with the criminals in the
responsibility of this crime? The regular Government has been expelled.
Does Paris consent to this expulsion? Men invested with no rights, or,
at least, with insufficient rights, have usurped the power. Does Paris
so far forget itself as to submit to this usurpation without resistance?

No, most assuredly no. Paris abominates crime, does not approve of the
expulsion of the Government, and does not acknowledge the right of the
members of the Central Committee to impose its wishes upon us. Why then
does Paris remain passive and patient? Does it not fear that it will be
said that silence implies consent? How is it that I myself, for example,
instead of writing my passing impressions on these pages, do not take my
musket to punish the criminals and resist this despotism? It is that we
all feel the present situation to be a, singularly complicated one. The
Government which has withdrawn to Versailles committed so many faults
that it would be difficult to side with it without reserve. The weakness
and inability the greater part of those who composed it showed during
the siege, their obstinacy in remaining deaf to the legitimate wishes of
the capital, have ill disposed us for depending on a state of things
which it would have been impossible to approve of entirely. In fine,
these unknown revolutionists, guilty most certainly, but perhaps
sincere, claim for Paris rights that almost the whole of Paris is
inclined to demand. It is impossible not to acknowledge that the
municipal franchise is wished for and becomes henceforth necessary.

It is for this reason that although aghast at the excesses in
perspective and those already committed by the dictators of the 18th
March, though revolted at the thought of all the blood spilled and yet
to be spilled - this is the reason that we side with no party. The past
misdeeds of the legitimate Government of Versailles damp our enthusiasm
for it, while some few laudable ideas put forth by the illegitimate
government of the Hôtel de Ville diminish our horror of its crimes, and
our apprehensions at its misdoings.

Then - why not dare say it? - Paris, which is so impressionable, so
excitable, so romantic, in admiration before all that is bold, has but a
moderate sympathy for that which is prudent. We may smile, as I did just
now, at the emphatic proclamation of the Central Committee, but that
does not prevent us from recognizing that its power is real, and the
ferocious elements that it has so suddenly revealed are not without a
certain grandeur. It might have been spitefully remarked that more than
one patriot in his yesterday evening walk on the outer boulevards and in
the environs of the Hôtel de Ville, had taken more _petit vin_ than was
reasonable in honour of the Republic and of the Commune, but that has

Online LibraryJohn LeightonParis under the Commune The Seventy-Three Days of the Second Siege; with Numerous Illustrations, Sketches Taken on the Spot, and Portraits (from the Original Photographs) → online text (page 4 of 32)