THE BESIEGED RESIDENT
THE BESIEGED RESIDENT
REPRINTED FROM "THE DAILY NEWS,"
SEVERAL NEW LETTERS AND PREFACE.
IN ONE VOLUME.
Second Edition, Revised.
LONDON: HURST AND BLACKETT, PUBLISHERS, 13, GREAT MARLBOROUGH STREET. 1871.
The Right of Translation is Reserved.
LONDON: BRADBURY, EVANS, AND CO., PRINTERS, WHITEFRIARS.
- Transcriber's note: In this book there are inconsistencies in accentation and capitalisation; these have been left as in the original. This book contains two chapters labeled XVII. -
The publishers of these letters have requested me to write a preface. In vain I have told them, that if prefaces have not gone out of date, the sooner they do, the better it will be for the public; in vain I have despairingly suggested that there must be something which would serve their purpose, kept in type at their printers, commencing, "At the request of—perhaps too partial—friends, I have been induced, against my own judgment, to publish, &c., &c., &c.;" they say that they have advertised the book with a preface, and a preface from me they must and will have. Unfortunately I have, from my earliest childhood, religiously skipped all introductions, prefaces, and other such obstructions, so that I really do not precisely know how one ought to be written; I can only, therefore, say that—
These letters are published for the very excellent reason that a confiding publisher has offered me a sum of money for them, which I was not such a fool as to refuse. They were written in Paris to the Daily News during the siege. I was residing there when the war broke out; after a short absence, I returned just before the capitulation of Sedan—intending only to remain one night. The situation, however, was so interesting that I stayed on from day to day, until I found the German armies drawing their lines of investment round the city. Had I supposed that I should have been their prisoner for nearly five months, I confess I should have made an effort to escape, but I shared the general illusion that—one way or the other—the siege would not last a month.
Although I forwarded my letters by balloon, or sent them by messengers who promised to "run the blockade," I had no notion, until the armistice restored us to communications with the outer world, that one in twenty had reached its destination. This mode of writing, as Dr. William Russell wittily observed to me the other day at Versailles, was much like smoking in the dark—and it must be my excuse for any inaccuracies or repetitions.
Many of my letters have been lost en route—some of them, which reached the Daily News Office too late for insertion, are now published for the first time. The reader will perceive that I pretend to no technical knowledge of military matters; I have only sought to convey a general notion of how the warlike operations round Paris appeared to a civilian spectator, and to give a fair and impartial account of the inner life of Paris, during its isolation from the rest of Europe. My bias—if I had any—was in favour of the Parisians, and I should have been heartily glad had they been successful in their resistance. There is, however, no getting over facts, and I could not long close my eyes to the most palpable fact—however I might wish it otherwise—that their leaders were men of little energy and small resource, and that they themselves seemed rather to depend for deliverance upon extraneous succour, than upon their own exertions. The women and the children undoubtedly suffered great hardships, which they bore with praiseworthy resignation. The sailors, the soldiers of the line, and levies of peasants which formed the Mobiles, fought with decent courage. But the male population of Paris, although they boasted greatly of their "sublimity," their "endurance," and their "valour," hardly appeared to me to come up to their own estimation of themselves, while many of them seemed to consider that heroism was a necessary consequence of the enunciation of advanced political opinions. My object in writing was to present a practical rather than a sentimental view of events, and to recount things as they were, not as I wished them to be, or as the Parisians, with perhaps excusable patriotism, wished them to appear.
For the sake of my publishers, I trust that the book will find favour with the public. For the last three hours I have been correcting the proofs of my prose, and it struck me that letters written to be inserted in separate numbers of a daily paper, when published in a collected form, are somewhat heavy reading. I feel, indeed, just at present, much like a person who has obtained money under false pretences, but whose remorse is not sufficiently strong to induce him to return it.
DIARY OF THE BESIEGED RESIDENT IN PARIS.
PARIS, September 18th.
No one walking on the Champs Elysees or on the Boulevards to-day would suppose that 300,000 Prussians are within a few miles of the city, and intend to besiege it. Happy, said Laurence Sterne, in his "Sentimental Journey," the nation which can once a week forget its cares. The French have not changed since then. To-day is a fete day, and as a fete day it must be kept. Every one seems to have forgotten the existence of the Prussians. The Cafes are crowded by a gay crowd. On the Boulevard, Monsieur and Madame walk quietly along with their children. In the Champs Elysees honest mechanics and bourgeois are basking in the sun, and nurserymaids are flirting with soldiers. There is even a lull in the universal drilling. The regiments of Nationaux and Mobiles carry large branches of trees stuck into the ends of their muskets. Round the statue of Strasburg there is the usual crowd, and speculators are driving a brisk trade in portraits of General Uhrich. "Here, citizens," cries one, "is the portrait of the heroic defender of Strasburg, only one sou—it cost me two—I only wish that I were rich enough to give it away." "Listen, citizens," cries another, "whilst I declaim the poem of a lady who has escaped from Strasburg. To those who, after hearing it, may wish to read it to their families, I will give it as a favour for two sous." I only saw one disturbance. As I passed by the Rond Point, a very tall woman was mobbed, because it was thought that she might be a Uhlan in disguise. But it was regarded more as a joke than anything serious. So bent on being happy was every one that I really believe that a Uhlan in the midst of them would not have disturbed their equanimity. "Come what may, to-day we will be merry," seemed to be the feeling; "let us leave care to the morrow, and make the most of what may be our last fete day."
Mr. Malet, the English secretary, who returned yesterday from Meaux, had no small difficulty in getting through the Prussian lines. He started on Thursday evening for Creil in a train with a French officer. When they got to Creil, they knocked up the Mayor, and begged him to procure them a horse. He gave them an order for the only one in the town. Its proprietor was in bed, and when they knocked at his door his wife cried out from the window, "My husband is a coward and won't open." A voice from within was heard saying, "I go out at night for no one." So they laid hands on the horse and harnessed it to a gig. All night long they drove in what they supposed was the direction of the Prussian outposts, trumpeting occasionally like elephants in a jungle. In the morning they found themselves in a desert, not a living soul to be seen, so they turned back towards Paris, got close in to the forts, and started in another direction. Occasionally they discerned a distant Uhlan, who rode off when he saw them. On Friday night they slept among the Francs-tireurs, and on the following morning they pushed forward again with an escort. Soon they saw a Prussian outpost, and after waving for some time a white flag, an officer came forward. After a parley Mr. Malet and his friend were allowed to pass. At three o'clock they arrived at Meaux. Count Bismarck was just driving into the town; he at once recognised Mr. Malet, whom he had known in Germany, and begged him to call upon him at nine o'clock. From Mr. Malet I know nothing more. I tried to "interview" him with respect to his conversation with Count Bismarck, but it takes two to make a bargain, and in this bargain he declined to be the number two. About half an hour afterwards, however, I met a foreign diplomatist of my acquaintance who had just come from the British Embassy. He had heard Mr. Malet's story, which, of course, had been communicated to the Corps Diplomatique, and being slightly demoralised, without well thinking what he was doing, he confided it to my sympathising ear.
Mr. Malet, at nine o'clock, found Count Bismarck seated before a table with wine and cigars. He was in high spirits and very sociable. This I can well believe, for I used to know him, and, to give the devil his due, he is one of the few Prussians of a sociable disposition. The interview lasted for more than two hours. Count Bismarck told Mr. Malet that the Prussians meant to have Metz and Strasburg, and should remain in France until they were obtained. The Prussians did not intend to dismantle them, but to make them stronger than they at present are. "The French," he said, "will hate us with an undying hate, and we must take care to render this hate powerless." As for Paris, the German armies would surround it, and with their several corps d'armee, and their 70,000 cavalry, would isolate it from the rest of the world, and leave its inhabitants to "seethe in their own milk." If the Parisians continued after this to hold out, Paris would be bombarded, and, if necessary, burned. My own impression is that Count Bismarck was not such a fool as to say precisely what he intended to do, and that he will attack at once; but the event will prove. He added that Germany was not in want of money, and therefore did not ask for a heavy pecuniary indemnity. Speaking of the French, Count Bismarck observed that there were 200,000 men round Metz, and he believed that Bazaine would have to capitulate within a week. He rendered full justice to the courage with which the army under Bazaine had fought, but he did not seem to have a very high opinion of the French army of Sedan. He questioned Mr. Malet about the state of Paris, and did not seem gratified to hear that there had been no tumults. The declaration of the Republic and its peaceful recognition by Paris and the whole of France appeared by no means to please him. He admitted that if it proved to be a moderate and virtuous Government, it might prove a source of danger to the monarchical principle in Germany.
I do trust that Englishmen will well weigh these utterances. Surely they will at last be of opinion that the English Government should use all its moral influence to prevent a city containing nearly two million inhabitants being burnt to the ground in order that one million Frenchmen should against their will be converted into Germans. It is our policy to make an effort to prevent the dismemberment of France, but the question is not now so much one of policy as of common humanity. No one asks England to go to war for France; all that is asked is that she should recognise the de facto Government of the country, and should urge Prussia to make peace on terms which a French nation can honourably accept.
General Vinoy, out reconnoitering with 15,000 men, came to-day upon a Prussian force of 40,000 near Vincennes. After an artillery combat, he withdrew within the lines of the forts. There have been unimportant skirmishes with the enemy at several points. The American, the Belgian, the Swiss, and the Danish Ministers are still here. Mr. Wodehouse has remained to look after our interests. All the secretaries were anxious to stay. I should be glad to know why Mr. Falconer Atlee, the British Consul at Paris, is not like other consuls, at his post. He withdrew to Dieppe about three weeks ago. His place is here. Neither a consul, nor a soldier, should leave his post as soon as it becomes dangerous.
Victor Hugo has published an address to the nation. You may judge of its essentially practical spirit by the following specimen:—"Rouen, draw thy sword! Lille, take up thy musket! Bordeaux, take up thy gun! Marseilles, sing thy song and be terrible!" I suspect Marseilles may sing her song a long time before the effect of her vocal efforts will in any way prevent the Prussians from carrying out their plans. "A child," say the evening papers, "deposited her doll this afternoon in the arms of the statue of Strasburg. All who saw the youthful patriot perform this touching act were deeply affected."
I don't know whether my letter of yesterday went off or not. As my messenger to the post-office could get no authentic intelligence about what was passing, I went there myself. Everybody was in military uniform, everybody was shrugging his shoulders, and everybody was in the condition of a London policeman were he to see himself marched off to the station by a street-sweeper. That the Prussian should have taken the Emperor prisoner, and have vanquished the French armies, had, of course, astonished these worthy bureaucrats, but that they should have ventured to interfere with postmen had perfectly dumbfounded them. "Put your letter in that box," said a venerable employe on a high stool. "Will it ever be taken out?" I asked. "Qui sait?" he replied. "Shall you send off a train to-morrow morning?" I asked. There was a chorus of "Qui sait?" and the heads disappeared still further with the respective shoulders to which they belonged. "What do you think of a man on horseback?" I suggested. An indignant "Impossible" was the answer. "Why not?" I asked. The look of contempt with which the clerks gazed on me was expressive. It meant, "Do you really imagine that a functionary—a postman—is going to forward your letters in an irregular manner?" At this moment a sort of young French Jefferson Brick came in. Evidently he was a Republican recently set in authority. To him I turned. "Citizen, I want my letter to go to London. It is a press letter. These bureaucrats say that they dare not send it by a horse express; I appeal to you, as I am sure you are a man of expedients." "These people," he replied, scowling at the clerks, "are demoralised. They are the ancient valets of a corrupt Court; give me your letter; if possible it shall go, 'foi de citoyen.'" I handed my letter to Jefferson, but whether it is on its way to England, or still in his patriotic hands, I do not know. As I passed out through the courtyard I saw postmen seated on the boxes of carts, with no horses before them. It was their hour to carry out the letters, and thus mechanically they fulfilled their duty. English Government officials have before now been jeered at as men of routine, but the most ancient clerk in Somerset House is a man of wild impulse and boundless expedient compared with the average of functionaries great and small here. The want of "shiftiness" is a national characteristic. The French are like a flock of sheep without shepherds or sheep-dogs. Soldiers and civilians have no idea of anything except doing what they are ordered to do by some functionary. Let one wheel in an administration get out of order, and everything goes wrong. After my visit to the post-office I went to the central telegraph office, and sent you a telegram. The clerk was very surly at first, but he said that he thought a press telegram would pass the wires. When I paid him he became friendly. My own impression is that my twelve francs, whoever they may benefit, will not benefit the British public.
From the telegraph-office I directed my steps to a club where I was engaged to dine. I found half-a-dozen whist tables in full swing. The conversation about the war soon, however, became general. "This is our situation," said, as he dealt a hand, a knowing old man of the world, a sort of French James Clay: "generally if one has no trumps in one's hand, one has at least some good court cards in the other suits; we've got neither trumps nor court cards." "Et le General Trochu?" some one suggested. "My opinion of General Trochu," said a General, who was sitting reading a newspaper, "is that he is a man of theory, but unpractical. I know him well; he has utterly failed to organise the forces which he has under his command." The general opinion about Trochu seemed to be that he is a kind of M'Clellan. "Will the Garde Nationale fight?" some one asked. A Garde National replied, "Of course there are brave men amongst us, but the mass will give in rather than see Paris destroyed. They have their families and their shops." "And the Mobiles?" "The Mobiles are the stuff out of which soldiers are made, but they are still peasants, and not soldiers yet." On the whole, I found the tone in "fashionable circles" desponding. "Can any one tell me where Jules Favre has gone?" I asked. Nobody could, though everybody seemed to think that he had gone to the Prussian headquarters. After playing a few rubbers, I went home to bed at about one o'clock. The streets were absolutely deserted. All the cafes were shut.
Nothing in the papers this morning. In the Figaro an article from that old humbug Villemessant. He calls upon his fellow-citizens in Paris to resist to the death.
"One thing Frenchmen never forgive," he says,—"cowardice."
The Gaulois contains the most news. It represents the Prussians to be all round Paris. At Versailles they have converted the Palais into a barrack. Their camp fires were seen last night in the forest of Bondy. Uhlans have made their appearance at St. Cloud. "Fritz" has taken up his quarters at Ferrieres, the chateau of Baron Rothschild. "William"—we are very familiar when we speak of the Prussian Royal family—is still at Meaux. "No thunderbolt," adds the correspondent, "has yet fallen on him." The Prussian outposts are at the distance of three kilometres from St. Denis. Near Vitry shots have been heard. In the environs of Vincennes there has been fighting. It appears General Ambert was arrested yesterday. He was reviewing some regiments of Nationaux, and when they cried, "Vive la Republique" he told them that the Republic did not exist. The men immediately surrounded him, and carried him to the Ministry of the Interior, where I presume he still is. The Rappel finds faults with Jules Favre's circular. Its tone, it says, is too humble. The Rappel gives a list of "valets of Bonaparte, ce coquin sinistre," who still occupy official positions, and demands that they shall at once be relieved from their functions. The Rappel also informs its readers that letters have been discovered (where?) proving that Queen Victoria had promised before the war to do her best to aid Germany.
Butler of a friend of mine, whose house is close by the fortifications, and who has left it in his charge, has just been to see me. The house is a "poste" of the National Guard. Butler says the men do not sleep on the ramparts, but in the neighbouring houses. They are changed every twenty-four hours. He had rather a hard time of it last night with a company from the Faubourg St. Antoine. As a rule, however, he says they are decent, orderly men. They complain very much that their business is going to rack and ruin; when they are away from their shops, they say, impecunious patriots come in to purchase goods of their wives, and promise to call another day to pay for them. On Saturday night the butler reports 300 National Guards were drawn up before his master's house, and twenty-five volunteers were demanded for a service of danger. After some time the twenty-five stepped forward, but having heard for what they were wanted, eighteen declined to go.
A British coachman just turned up offers to carry letters through—seems a sharp plucky fellow. I shall employ him as soon as the Post-office is definitely closed. British coachman does not think much of the citizen soldiers in Paris. "Lor' bless you, sir, I'd rather have 10,000 Englishmen than the lot of them. In my stable I make my men obey me, but these chaps they don't seem to care what their officers says to them. I seed them drill this morning; a pretty green lot they was. Why, sir, giving them fellow Chassepots is much like giving watches to naked savages."
The Breton Mobiles are making pilgrimages to the churches. I hope it may do them good. I hear the cures of Paris have divided the ramparts between them, and are on the fortifications—bravo! cures. By-the-bye, that fire-eater, Paul de Cassagnac, has not followed the example of his brother Imperial journalists. He enlisted as a Zouave, fought well, and was taken prisoner at Sedan. He is now employed by his captors in making bread. I hope his bread will be better than his articles.
Been sitting with a friend who commands a company of National Guards. The company is now outside the fortifications. Friend tells me that the men in his company are mostly small shopkeepers. At first it was difficult to get them to come to drill, but within the last few days they have been drilling hard, and he is convinced that they will fight well. Friend tells me that a large number of National Guards have run away from Paris, and that those who remain are very indignant with them. He requests me to beg my countrymen, if they see a sturdy Monsieur swelling it down Regent Street, to kick him, as he ought to be defending his country. I fulfil his request with the greatest pleasure and endorse it. I have just seen a Prussian spy taken to prison. I was seated before a cafe on the Boulevard des Capucines. Suddenly there was a shout of "un Prussien;" every one rushed towards the Place de l'Opera, and from the Boulevard Haussmann came a crowd with a soldier, dressed as an artilleryman, on a horse. He was preceded and followed by about one hundred Mobiles. By his side rode a woman. No one touched them. Whether he and his "lady friend" were Germans I do not know; but they certainly looked Germans, and extremely uncomfortable.
Been to Embassy. Messenger Johnson arrived this morning at 12 o'clock. He had driven to Rouen. At each post station he was arrested. He drove up to the Embassy, followed by a howling mob. As he wore an unknown uniform they took him for a Prussian. Messenger Johnson, being an old soldier, was belligerently inclined. "The first man who approaches," &c. The porter of the Embassy, however, dragged him inside, and explained to the mob who he was. He had great difficulty in calming them. One man sensibly observed that in these times no one should drive through Paris in a foreign uniform, as the mass of the people knew nothing of Queen's messengers and their uniforms. Messenger Johnson having by this time got within the Embassy gates, the mob turned on his postilion and led him off. What his fate has been no one has had time to ask.
When I went upstairs I found Wodehouse sitting like patience on a stool, with a number of Britons round him, who wanted to get off out of Paris. Wodehouse very justly told them that Lord Lyons had given them due notice to leave, and that they had chosen at their own risk to remain. The Britons seemed to imagine that their Embassy was bound to find them a road by which they might safely withdraw from the town. One very important Briton was most indignant—"I am a man of wealth and position. I am not accustomed to be treated in this manner. What is the use of you, sir, if you cannot ensure my safe passage to England? If I am killed the world shall ring with it. I shall myself make a formal complaint to Lord Granville," said this incoherent and pompous donkey. Exit man of position fuming; enter unprotected female. Of course she was a widow, of course she had lost half-a-dozen sons, of course she kept lodgings, and of course she wanted her "hambassader" generally to take her under his wing. I left Wodehouse explaining to her that if she went out of Paris even with a pass, she might or might not be shot according to circumstances. I will say for him that I should not be as patient as he is, were I worried and badgered by the hour by a crowd of shrieking women and silly men.
Fighting is going on all round Paris. There are crowds on the Boulevard; every one is asking his neighbour for news. I went to one of the Mairies to hear the bulletins read. The street was almost impassable. At last I got near enough to hear an official read out a despatch—nothing important. The commanders at Montrouge and Vincennes announce that the Prussians are being driven back. "Et Clamart?" some one cries. "A bas les alarmistes," is the reply. Every one is despondent. Soldiers have come back from Meudon demoralised. We have lost a position, it is whispered. I find a friend, upon whose testimony I can rely, who was near Meudon until twelve o'clock. He tells me that the troops of the line behaved badly. They threw away their muskets without firing a shot, and there was a regular sauve qui peut. The Mobiles, on the other hand, fought splendidly, and were holding the position when he left. I am writing this in a cafe. It is full of Gardes Nationaux. They are saying that if the troops of the line are not trustworthy, resistance is hopeless. A Garde National gives the following explanation of the demoralisation of the army. He says that the Imperial Government only troubled itself about the corps d'elite; that the object in the line regiments was to get substitutes as cheaply as possible; consequently, they are filled with men physically and morally the scum of the nation. Semaphore telegraphs have been put up on all the high public buildings. There are also semaphores on the forts. I see that one opposite me is exchanging signals. The crowd watch them as though by looking they would discover what they mean. "A first success," says a National next to me, "was absolutely necessary for us, in order to give us confidence." "But this success we do not seem likely to have," says another. The attempt to burn down the forests seems only partially to have succeeded. The Prussians appear to be using them, and the French to the last carrying on war without scouts.
Evening papers just out. Not a word about Clamart. The Liberte says the Minister of the Interior refers journalists to General Trochu, who claims the right to suppress what he pleases. When will French Governments understand that it is far more productive of demoralisation to allow no official news to be published than to publish the worst? Rochefort has been appointed President of a Committee of Barricades, to organise a second line of defence within the ramparts.
The cannon can be distinctly heard. The reports come from different quarters. Jules Favre, I hear from a sure source, is at the Prussian headquarters.
I live au quatrieme with a balcony before my room. I can see the flashes of cannon in the direction of Vincennes. There appears to be a great fire somewhere.
Have driven to the Barriere de l'Enfer. Nothing there. On the Champ de Mars I found troops returned from Clamart. They complain that they never saw their officers during the engagement, that there were no scouts in the Bois de Clamart, and that the Prussians succeeded by their old game of sticking to the cover. At first they fell back—the French troops pressed on, when they were exposed to a concentric fire. From the Champs Elysees I drove to the Buttes de Montmartre. Thousands of people clustered everywhere except where they were kept off by the Nationaux, who were guarding the batteries. The northern sky was bright from the reflection of a conflagration—as the forest of St. Germain was burning. It was almost light. We could see every shot and shell fired from the forts round St. Denis. At ten o'clock I got back to the Boulevard des Italiens. Every cafe was closed. It appears that at about nine o'clock the Cafe Riche was full of Gardes Mobiles, officers, and lorettes. They made so much noise that the public outside became indignant, and insisted on their giving up their orgie. The National Guard joined in this protest, and an order was sent at once to close every cafe. Before the Maison Doree I saw a few viveurs, gazing at its closed windows as though the end of the world had come. This cafe has been opened day and night for the last twenty years. From my balcony I can no longer hear the cannon; the sky, however, is even brighter from the conflagration than it was.
The firing has recommenced. We can hear it distinctly. General Ambert has been cashiered. Figaro announces that Villemessant has returned. We are given a dozen paragraphs about this humbug of humbugs, his uniform, &c., &c. I do not think that he will be either killed or wounded. The latest telegram from the outer world announces that "Sir Campbell"—medecin Anglais—has arrived at Dieppe with despatches to the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and of Marine.
Paris very quiet and very despondent. Few soldiers about. The Line is reviled, the Mobile extolled. From all accounts the latter seem to have behaved well—a little excited at first, but full of pluck. Let the siege only last a week and they will be capital soldiers, and then we shall no longer be called upon, to believe the assertions of military men, that it takes years of drill and idling in a barrack to make a soldier.
My own impression always has been that Malet brought back a written answer from Bismarck offering to see Jules Favre. Can it be that, after all, the Parisians, at the mere sound of cannon, are going to cave in, and give up Alsace and Lorraine? If they do, I give them up. If my friends in Belleville descend into the streets to prevent this ignominy, I descend with them.
I got, about an hour ago, some way on the road to Charenton, when I was turned back, and a couple of soldiers took possession of me, and did not leave me until I was within the city gate. I could see no traces of any Prussians or of any fighting. Two English correspondents got as far as St. Denis this morning. After having been arrested half-a-dozen times and then released, they were impressed, and obliged to carry stones to make a barricade. They saw no Prussians. I hear that a general of artillery was arrested last night by his men. There is a report, also, that the Government mean to decimate the cowards who ran away yesterday, pour encourager les autres. The guns of the Prussians which they have posted on the heights they took yesterday it is said will carry as far as the Arc de Triomphe.
There have been two deputations to the Hotel de Ville to interview the Government with respect to the armistice. One consisted of about 100 officers of the National Guard, most of them from the Faubourgs of St. Antoine and the Temple. They were of course accompanied by a large crowd. Having been admitted into the Salle du Trone, they were received by the Mayor of Paris and M. Jules Ferry. The reply of the latter is not very clear. He certainly said that no shameful peace should be concluded; but whether, as some assert, he assured the officers that no portion of French soil should be ceded is not equally certain. Shortly after this deputation had left, another arrived from the Republican clubs. It is stated that M. Jules Ferry's answer was considered satisfactory. The walls have been placarded with a proclamation of Trochu to the armed force. He tells them that some regiments behaved badly at Clamart; but the assertion that they had no cartridges is false. He recommends all citizens to arrest soldiers who are drunk or who propagate false news, and threatens them with the vigorous application of the Articles of War. Another proclamation from Keratry warns every one against treating soldiers or selling them liquor when they already have had too much. I went to dine this evening in an estaminet in the Faubourg St. Antoine. It was full of men of the people, and from the tone of their observations I am certain that if M. Jules Favre concludes an armistice involving any cession of territory, there will be a rising at once. The cafes are closed now at 10 o'clock. At about 11 I walked home. One would have supposed oneself in some dull great provincial town at 3 in the morning. Everything was closed. No one, except here and there a citizen on his way home, or a patrol of the National Guard, was to be seen.
I suppose that you in England know a good deal more of what is passing at the Prussian headquarters than we do here. M. Jules Favre's departure was kept so close a secret, that it did not ooze out until yesterday. The "ultras" in the Government were, I understand on good authority, opposed to it, but M. Jules Favre was supported by Picard, Gambetta, and Keratry, who, as everything is comparative, represent the moderate section of our rulers. We are as belligerent and cheery to-day as we were despondent on Monday evening. When any disaster occurs it takes a Frenchman about twenty-four hours to accustom himself to it. During this time he is capable of any act of folly or despair. Then follows the reaction, and he becomes again a brave man. When it was heard that the heights at Meudon had been taken, we immediately entered into a phase of despair. It is over now, and we crow as lustily as ever. We shall have another phase of despondency when the first fort is taken, and another when the first shells fall into the town; but if we get through them, I really have hopes that Paris will not disgrace herself. Nothing of any importance appears to have taken place at the front yesterday. The commanders of several forts sent to Trochu to say that they have fired on the Prussians, and that there have been small outpost engagements. During the day the bridges of St. Cloud, Sevres, and Billancourt were blown up. I attempted this morning to obtain a pass from General Trochu. Announcing myself as a "Journaliste Anglais," I got, after some difficulty, into a room in which several of his staff were seated. But there my progress was stopped. I was told that aides-de-camp had been fired on, and that General Trochu had himself been arrested, and had been within an inch of being shot because he had had the impudence to say that he was the Governor of Paris. I suggested that he might take me with him the next time he went out, and pointed out that correspondents rode with the Prussian staffs, but it was of no use. From Trochu I went to make a few calls. I found every one engaged in measuring the distance from the Prussian batteries to his particular house. One friend I found seated in a cellar with a quantity of mattresses over it, to make it bomb-proof. He emerged from his subterraneous Patmos to talk to me, ordered his servant to pile on a few more mattresses, and then retreated. Anything so dull as existence here it is difficult to imagine. Before the day is out one gets sick and tired of the one single topic of conversation. We are like the people at Cremorne waiting for the fireworks to begin; and I really do believe that if this continues much longer, the most cowardly will welcome the bombs as a relief from the oppressive ennui. Few regiments are seen now during the day marching through the streets—they are most of them either on the ramparts or outside them. From 8 to 9 in the morning there is a military movement, as regiments come and go, on and off duty. In the courtyard of the Louvre several regiments of Mobiles are kept under arms all night, ready to march to any point which may be seriously attacked. A good many troops went at an early hour this morning in the direction of St. Cloud.
The weather is beautiful—a lovely autumn morning. They say that Rochefort and his friends are busily employed at Grenelle.
The cannonade has been audible for the last half-hour. It is getting every moment louder. The people are saying that Mont Valerien donne. I am going up to the Avenue de l'Imperatrice, where I shall be able to see what is going on.
Come back; heavy firing—but I could not make out whether it came from Mont Valerien. Jules Favre has returned. They say the Prussians will only treat in Paris. Just seen an American who tried to get with a letter to General Sheridan. He got into the Prussian lines, but could not reach headquarters. On his return he was nearly murdered by the Mobiles; passed last night in a cell with two drunkards, and has just been let out, as all his papers were found en regle.
I sent off a letter yesterday in a balloon; whether it reaches its destination, or is somewhere in the clouds, you will know before I do. The difficulties of getting through the lines are very great, and will become greater every day. The Post-office says that it tries to send letters through, but I understand that the authorities have little hope of succeeding. Just now I saw drawn up in the courtyard of the Grand Hotel a travelling carriage, with hampers of provisions, luggage, and an English flag flying. Into it stepped four Britons. Their passports were vised, they said, by their Embassy, and they were starting for England via Rouen. Neither French nor Prussians would, they were convinced, stop them. I did not even confide a letter to their hands, as they are certain, even if they get through the French outposts, to be arrested by the Prussians and turned back. Yesterday on the return of Jules Favre he announced that the King of Prussia required as a condition of Peace the cession of Alsace and Lorraine, and as the condition of an armistice immediate possession of Metz, Strasburg, and Mont Valerien. The Government immediately met, and a proclamation was at once posted on the walls signed by all the members. After stating it had been reported that the Government was inclined to abandon the policy to which it owed its existence, it goes on in the following words:—"Our policy is this. Neither an inch of our territory nor a stone of our fortresses. The Government will maintain this until the end."
Yesterday afternoon we "manifested" against peace. We "manifest" by going, if we are in the National Guard, with bouquets at the ends of our muskets to deposit a crown of immortelles before the statue of Strasburg. If we are unarmed, we walk behind a drum to the statue and sing the "Marseillaise." At the statue there is generally some orator on a stool holding forth. We occasionally applaud him, but we never listen to him. After this we go to the Place before the Hotel de Ville, and we shout "Point de Paix." We then march down the Boulevards, and we go home satisfied that we have deserved well of our country. As yesterday was the anniversary of the proclamation of the First Republic, we were in a very manifesting mood. M. Gambetta issued proclamations every half hour, calling upon us, in more or less flowery language, to die for our country. M. Arago, the Mayor, followed suit, heading his manifestoes with the old, rallying cry, "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite." I suppose the French are so constituted that they really cannot exist without processions, bouquets to statues, and grand phrases. Notwithstanding all this humbug, a large portion of them mean, I am sure, to fight it out. They have taken it into their heads that Paris can be successfully defended, and if it is not, they are determined that it shall not be their fault. It is intended, I understand, to keep well beneath the cover of the forts, not to risk engagements more than is necessary—gradually to convert the splendid raw material of the Mobiles into good soldiers, by accustoming them to be under fire, and then, if things go well, to fall on one or other of the Prussian armies. It is hoped, too, that the Prussian communications will be menaced. Such is the plan, and every one pretends to believe that it will succeed; whether they are right or wrong time will show.
The Government, an ex-diplomatist, who has been talking to several of its members this morning, tells me, is a "unit." There was a party ready to accept the dismantling of Metz and Strasburg, but as this concession will not disarm the Prussians, they have rallied to the "not a stone of one fortress" declaration.
Of course I cannot be expected to give aid and comfort to our besiegers by telling them, if they seize this letter, what is being done inside to keep them out. But this I think it will do them no harm to know. The National Guard man the ramparts. In the angles of the bastions there are Mobiles. At points close by the ramparts there are reserves of Mobiles and National Guards, ready at a moment's notice both by day and night to reinforce them. In the centre of the town there are reserves under arms. Outside the gates, between the forts and the ramparts, troops are massed with artillery, and the forts are well garrisoned. A gentleman who has lately been under a cloud, as he was the inventor of the Orsini bombs, has several thousand men at work on infernal machines. This magician assures me that within a week he will destroy the German armies as completely as were the Assyrians who besieged Samaria under Sennacherib. He is an enthusiast, but an excellent chemist, and I really have hopes that he will before long astonish our friends outside. He promises me that I shall witness his experiments in German corpore vili; and though I have in mind a quotation about being hoisted with one's own petard, I shall certainly keep him to his word. On the whole the King of Prussia, to use Mr. Lincoln's phrase, will find it a big job to take Paris if the Parisians keep to their present mood. Mr. Washburne told me yesterday that he does not think he shall leave. There is to be a consultation of the Corps Diplomatique to-morrow, under the presidency of the Nuncio, to settle joint action. I admire the common sense of Mr. Washburne. He called two days ago upon the Government to express his sympathy with them. Not being a man of forms and red tape, instead of going to the Foreign-office, he went to the Hotel de Ville, found a Council sitting, shook hands all round, and then withdrew. I have serious thoughts of taking up my quarters at the English Embassy. It belongs to me as one of the nation, and I see no reason why I should not turn my property to some account.
Yesterday's papers contained an official announcement that a company of mutual assurance against the consequences of the bombardment has been formed. Paris is divided into three zones, and according to the danger proprietors of houses situated in each of them are to be admitted into the company on payment of one, two, or three per cent. It comforts me, comparatively, to find that I am in the one per cent. zone, and, unless my funds give way, I shall remain there.
Spies are being arrested every half hour. Many mistakes are made from over zeal, but there is no doubt that a good many Germans are in the town disguised in French uniforms. The newspapers ask what becomes of them all, and suggest that they should be publicly shot. It is beautiful weather, and as I sit writing this at my open window I have great difficulty in believing that we are cut off from the rest of the world by a number of victorious armies, who mean to burn or starve us out. M. John Lemoinne in the Journal des Debats this morning has a very sensible article upon the position of the Government. He says that between the first and the second of these two ultimatums there is a vast difference, and he exhorts the Government to stand by the first, but not to refuse peace if it can be obtained by the dismantling of Metz and Strasburg. The Temps of this evening takes the same view of the proclamation. The ultra Republican journals, on the other hand, support the policy of the Government. M. Felix Pyat, in his organ, Le Combat, urges war to the death, and proposes that we should at once have Spartan banquets, at which rich and poor should fare alike. A proposal has been made to start a national subscription for a musket of honour to be given to the man who shoots the King of Prussia. There are already 2,000 subscribers of one sou each to the testimonial. The latest proclamation I have seen on the walls is one from the Mayor of Paris, informing the public that the coachmen of Paris are not to be ill-treated by their fares because they are not on the ramparts. As the coachmen of Paris are usually excessively insolent, I shall not be sorry to hear that they have at length met with their deserts. A coachman who was driving me yesterday told me in the strictest confidence that he was a man who never meddled in politics, and, consequently, it was a matter of absolute indifference to him whether Napoleon or a "General Prussien" lived in the Tuileries; and this, I suspect, is the view that many here take, if they only dared say it.
It is amusing to observe how every one has entered into the conspiracy to persuade the world that the French nation never desired war—to hear them, one would suppose that the Rhine had never been called the national frontier of France, and that the war had been entered into by Badinguet, as they style the late Emperor, against the wishes of the army, the peasantry, and the bourgeoisie. Poor old Badinguet has enough to answer for already, but even sensible Frenchmen have persuaded themselves that he, and he alone, is responsible for the war. He is absolutely loathed here. I sometimes suggest to some Gaul that he may possibly be back again some day; the Gaul immediately rolls his eyes, clenches his fists, and swears that if ever Badinguet returns to Paris he (the Gaul) will himself shoot him.
An American, who took an active part in the Confederate defence of Richmond, has just been in to see me. He does not believe that the town will hold out long, and scoffs at the mode in which it is being defended. I reserve my opinion until I have seen it under fire. Certainly they "do protest too much." The papers contain lists of citizens who have sworn to die rather than surrender. The bourgeois, when he goes off to the ramparts, embraces his wife in public, and assumes a martial strut as though he were a very Curtius on the way to the pit. Jules is perpetually hugging Jacques, and talking about the altar of his country on which he means to mount. I verily believe that the people walking on the Boulevards, and the assistants of the shops who deal out their wares, in uniform, are under the impression that they are heroes already, perilling life and limb for their country. Every girl who trips along thinks that she is a Maid of Saragossa. It is almost impossible for an Englishman to realise the intense delight which a Frenchman has in donning a uniform, strutting about with a martial swagger, and listening to a distant cannonade. As yet the only real hardships we have suffered have been that our fish is a little stale, and that we are put on short allowance of milk. The National Guards on the ramparts, I hear, grumble very much at having to spend the night in the open air. The only men I think I can answer for are the working men of the outer faubourgs and a portion of the Provincial Gardes Mobiles. They do mean to fight. Some of the battalions of the National Guards will fight too, but I should be afraid to trust the greater portion of them, even behind earthworks. "Remember," says the Figaro to them to-day, "that you have wives and children; do not be too venturesome." This advice, I think, was hardly needed. As for the regular troops, they are not to be trusted, and I am not sorry to think that there are 10,000 sailors in the forts to man the guns.
We have been manifesting again to-day. I was in hopes that this nonsense was over. On the Place de la Concorde there was a crowd all the afternoon, applauding orators, and companies of National Guards were bringing bouquets to the statue of Strasburg. At the Hotel de Ville a deputation of officers of the National Guards came to urge the Government to put off the elections. After a short parley this was promised. Another demonstration took place to urge the Government not to make peace, to accept as their colleagues some "friends of the people," and to promise not to re-establish in any form a police force. An evasive answer was given to these demonstrators. It seems to me that the Government, in its endeavours to prevent a collision between the moderates and the ultras, yield invariably to the latter. What is really wanted is a man of energy and determined will. I doubt if Trochu has either.
The bold Britons who tried to run the blockade have returned. They managed to get over the bridge of Neuilly, but were arrested a few yards beyond it and brought back to General Ducrot. One of them was taken in with the passports of the five. "I cannot understand you English," the General said; "if you want to get shot we will shoot you ourselves to save you trouble." After some parley, General Ducrot gave them a pass to go through the French lines, but then he withdrew it, and said he must consult General Trochu. When the spokesman emerged, he found his friends being led off by a fresh batch of patriots for having no passports, but they at length got safely back to the Grand Hotel. Their leader, who is an intelligent man in his way, gives a very discouraging account of what he saw outside. The Mobiles were lying about on the roads, and everyone appeared to be doing much what he pleased. This afternoon I went up to the Trocadero to look at the heights on which they say that there are already Prussian guns. They appear most uncomfortably near. Those who had telescopes declared that they could see both guns and Prussians. We were always told until within a few days that Mont Valerien would protect all that side of Paris. How can the engineers have made such a mistake?
This evening I went to call upon one of the chiefs of '48, and had an interesting conversation with him. He says that many think that he and his friends ought to be in the Government, and that eventually they all will be; he added "the Reds are determined to fight, and so long as the Government does not make a humiliating peace they will support it." I tried to get out what he considered a humiliating peace, but he rather fenced with the question. He tells me that at the Folies Bergeres, the headquarters of the ultras, great dissatisfaction is felt with the Committees of the "Clubs" for having gone yesterday to the Hotel de Ville, and endeavoured to force the Government to declare that it would not treat with the Prussians whilst they were on French soil, and to allow them to establish a "Commune" as an imperium in imperio. "The army of the Loire," said my friend, "will soon fall on the rear of the Prussians; we have only to hold out for a few weeks, and this, depend upon it, we shall do." Now, to the best of my belief, the army of the Loire only exists on paper, but here was a sensible man talking of it as though it consisted of some 200,000 seasoned troops; and what is more strange, he is by no means singular in his belief. A fortnight ago it was the army of Lyons, now it is the army of the Loire. How reasonable men can allow themselves to put their faith in these men of buckram, I cannot imagine.
Firing has been going on since three o'clock this morning. The newspapers contain accounts more or less veracious respecting fights outside the forts, in which great numbers of Prussians have been killed. M. Jules Favre publishes an account of his interview with Count Bismarck in the Journal Officiel. M. Villemessant in the Figaro informs the world that he has left his wife outside, and would willingly allow one of his veins to be opened in exchange for a letter from her. We are still engaged in our old occupation—vowing to die for our country. I hear that there has been serious fighting in the neighbourhood of St. Denis. This morning I saw another of the '48 Republicans—he seemed inclined to upset the Government more on the ground that they are incapable than because he differs with them in politics. I give this letter to a friend who will get it into the balloon, and go off to the Trocadero, to see how things are getting on.
The Solferino Tower on the Buttes Montmartre has been pulled down. No one is to be allowed to hoist the Geneva flag unless the house contains at least six beds for wounded. We have now a bread as well as a meat maximum.
We are as despondent to-day as we were jubilant yesterday. The success at the front seems to have dwindled down to an insignificant artillery combat. The Electeur Libre gives the following account of it. On the previous evening 8,000 Prussians had taken the redoubt of Villejuif. At one in the morning some regiments advanced from there towards Vitry, and occupied the mill of Saqui, while on the left about 5,000 established themselves on the plateau of Hautes-Bruyeres. The division of General Maud'huy re-took these positions. At five o'clock in the morning the Prussians tried to occupy them a second time, but failed, and at half-past seven o'clock they fell back. At nine they attacked again, when a column of our troops, issuing from the Porte d'Italie, arrived. The fray went on until ten o'clock, when the Prussians retreated towards Sceaux. This tallies to a great extent with what I was told by an officer this morning who had taken part in the engagement.
The Gazette Officielle contains a decree cashiering M. Devienne, President of the Cour de Cassation, and sending him to be judged by his own court, for having been the intermediary between Badinguet and his mistress, Marguerite Bellanger. Two letters are published which seem to leave no doubt that this worthy judge acted as the go-between of the two lovers.
Mr. George Sanders, whilom United States Consul in London, and one of the leaders of the ex-Confederacy, is here; he is preparing plans for a system of rifle pits and zigzags outside the fortifications, at the request of General Trochu. Mr. Sanders, who took an active part in the defence of Richmond, declares that Paris is impregnable, if it be only well defended. He complains, however, that the French will not use the spade.
4 o'clock P.M.
We have been in a state of wild enthusiasm all this afternoon. At about 1 o'clock it was rumoured that 20,000 Prussians and 40 cannon had been taken. There had been a heavy firing, it was said, this morning, and a Prussian force had approached near the forts of Ivry and Bicetre. General Vinoy had issued forth from Vincennes, and, getting behind them, had forced them under the guns of the forts, where they were taken prisoners. The Boulevards immediately were crowded; here a person announcing that he had a despatch from the front, here another vowing he had been there himself. Wherever a drum was heard there was a cry of "Here come the prisoners!" Tired of this, at about 4 o'clock I drove to Montrouge. It is a sort of Parisian Southwark. I found all the inhabitants lining the streets, waiting, too, for news. A regiment marched in, and there was a cry that it had come from the front; then artillery filed by out of the city gate. I tried myself to pass, and had got half-way through before I was stopped, then I was turned back. The prisoners here, close by the scene of action, had dwindled down to 5,000. Imagine Southwark, with every man armed in it, and a battle going on at Greenwich, and you will have an idea of the excitement of Montrouge.
6 o'clock P.M.
The Boulevards almost impassable; the streets before the Mairies absolutely impassable; no official confirmation of the victory. Everyone who is not inventing news is waiting for it. A proclamation has been issued by General Trochu conceived in a very sensible spirit, telling the National Guard that the moment is ill chosen for pacific demonstrations, with crowns and bouquets. I hear that some of the soldiers who ran away at Clamart have been shot.
Some of the papers discovered in the Tuileries are published. There is a letter from Jecker to Conti, in which he says that De Morny had promised him to get the Mexican Government to pay his claims on condition of receiving 30 per cent. of profits. A letter signed Persigny complains that an employe in the Cabinet Noir is in want, and ought to be given money to prevent his letting out secrets. A letter from the Queen of Holland tells Napoleon that if he does not interfere in Germany his own dynasty will suffer. A note of the Emperor, without date, says, "If France boldly places itself on the terrain of the nationalities, it is necessary to prove that the Belgian nationality does not exist. The Cabinet of Berlin seeming ready to enter into negotiations, it would be well to negotiate a secret acte, which would pledge both parties. This act would have the double advantage of compromising Prussia and of being for her a pledge of the sincerity of the Emperor." The note then goes on to say that it is necessary to dissipate the apprehensions of Prussia. "An acte is wanted," it continues; "and one which would consist of a regulation of the ulterior fate of Belgium in concert with Prussia would, by proving at Berlin that the Emperor desires the extension which is necessary to France since the events which have taken place in Germany, be at least a relative certainty that the Prussian Government would not object to our aggrandisement towards the North."
I drove this morning through the fighting faubourgs with a member of the Barricade Committee. Barricades are being erected everywhere, and they are even stronger than the outer fortifications. There are, too, some agreeable little chemical surprises for the Prussians if ever they get into the town. In reply to some suggestions which I made, my friend said, "Leave these people to form their own plans. They understand street fighting better than any one in the world." At La Villette, Crenelle, and other faubourgs inhabited by the blouses, there is no lack of patriotism, and they will blow themselves and their homes up rather than yield.
The bold Britons started again in their Derby turn-out yesterday. Nothing has been heard of them since. We do not know whether they have been imprisoned or what has become of them. I have already entrusted my letters to balloons, boatmen, peasants, and Americans, but I do not know whether they have reached you or not. The last balloon was pursued by a Prussian one, the newspapers say!
Yesterday the Nuncio called together all the diplomatists still here, and they determined to try to communicate with Bismarck. They seem to imagine that a twenty-four hours' notice will be given before a bombardment commences, when they will have time to get out. I send this letter by a Government balloon. I shall send a copy to-morrow by a private balloon, if it really does start as announced.
The Gazette Officielle "unites with many citizens in asking Louis Blanc to go to England, to obtain the sympathies of the English nation for the Republic." This is all very well, but how is he to get there?
No news of any importance from the front. It is a fete day, but there are few holiday makers. The presence of the Prussians at the gates, and the sound of the cannon, have at last sobered this frivolous people. Frenchmen, indeed, cannot live without exaggeration, and for the last twenty-four hours they have taken to walking about as if they were guests at their own funerals. It is hardly in their line to play the justum et tenacem of Horace. Always acting, they are now acting the part of Spartans. It is somewhat amusing to see the stern gloom on the face of patriots one meets, who were singing and shouting a few days ago—more particularly as it is by no means difficult to distinguish beneath this outward gloom a certain keen relish, founded upon the feeling that the part is well played. One thing, however, is certain, order has at length been evolved from disorder. Except in the morning, hardly any armed men are to be seen in the streets, and even in the central Boulevards, except when there is a report of some success or during an hour in the evening, there are no crowds. In the fighting faubourgs there is a real genuine determination to fight it out to the last. The men there have arms, and they have not cared to put on uniforms. Men, women, and children are all of one mind in the quarters of the working men. I have been much struck with the difference between one of these poor fellows who is prepared to die for the honour of his country, between his quiet, calm demeanour, and the absurd airs, and noisy brawls, and the dapper uniforms of the young fellows one meets with in the fashionable quarters. It is the difference between reality and sham, bravery and bombast.
The newspapers are beginning to complain of the number of Chevaliers of the Red Cross, who are daily becoming more numerous. Strong men, they say, should not enrol themselves in a corps of non-combatants. It is said, also, that at Clamart these chevaliers declined to go under fire and pick up the wounded, and that the ambulances themselves made a strategic movement to the rear at the commencement of the combat. The flag of the Convention of Geneva is on far too many houses. From my window I can count fifteen houses with this flag floating over them.
We have most wonderful stories about the Prussians, which, although they are generally credited, I take leave to doubt. Villagers who have slipped through the lines, and who play the part of the intelligent contraband of the American Civil War, are our informants. They represent the Prussian army without food, almost without clothing, bitterly repenting their advance into France, demoralised by the conviction that few of their number will be again in their homes. We are treated every day, too, to the details of deeds of heroism on the part of Mobiles and Nationaux, which would make Achilles himself jealous. There is, we are told, a wonderful artilleryman in the fort before St. Denis, the perfection of whose aim carries death and destruction into the Prussian ranks.
I am not sorry to learn that the sale of the ultra papers is not large. M. Blanqui's office was yesterday broken into by some National Guards, who made it clear to this worthy that he had ill chosen his moment to attack the Government. I have not myself the slightest dread of a general pillage. The majority of the working men no doubt entertain extreme Socialist ideas, but any one of them who declined to make any distinction between his property and that of his richer neighbours would be very roughly handled. So long as the Government sticks to its policy of no surrender, it will be supported by the faubourgs; if, however, it attempts to capitulate upon humiliating terms, it will be ejected from the Hotel de Ville. A sharp bombardment may, perhaps, make a change in public opinion, but I can only speak of the opinion of to-day. The Government declares that it can never run short of ammunition; but it seems to me that we cannot fire off powder and projectiles eternally, and that one of these mornings we shall be told that we must capitulate, as there is no more ammunition. Americans who are here, complain very much of the Parisians for not using the spade more than they do. Earthworks, which played so large a part in the defence both of Sebastopol and Richmond, are unknown at Paris. Barricades made of paving stones in the streets, and forts of solid masonry outside, are considered the ne plus ultra of defensive works. For one man who will go to work to shovel earth, you may find a thousand who will shoulder a musket. "Paris may be able to defend itself," the Americans say, "but it is not defending itself after what our generals would consider the most approved method." We have no intelligence of what is passing in France beyond our lines. We presume that a great army is forming beyond the Loire; but yesterday a friend of mine, who received this assurance from M. Gambetta, could not discover that he had any reason to believe it, except the hope that it was true.
It is a somewhat singular thing that Rochefort, who was regarded even by his friends as a vain, mad-brained demagogue, has proved himself one of the most sensible and practical members of the Government. He has entirely subordinated his own particular views to the exigencies of the defence of the capital; and it is owing to his good sense that the ultras have not indulged in any revolutionary excesses.
I have already endeavoured to forward to you, by land, water, and air, copies of the Tuileries papers which have been published. That poor old pantaloon, Villemessant, the proprietor and editor of the Figaro, who is somewhat roughly handled by them, attempts to defend himself in his paper this morning, but utterly fails to do so. His interested connection with the Imperial Government is proved without the shadow of a doubt, and I trust that it will also prove the death of his newspaper, which has long been a disgrace to the press of France. I went to look after the proprietor of another paper yesterday, as he had promised me that, come what may, he would get his own and my letters through the Prussian lines. My friend, I found, had taken himself off to safe quarters before the last road was closed. For my part I despise any Parisian who has not remained here to defend his native city, whether he be Imperialist or Republican, noble or merchant.
They could stand it no longer; the afternoon was too fine. Stern patriotism unbent, and tragic severity of demeanour was forgotten. The Champs Elysees and the Avenue de la Grande Armee were full of people. Monsieur shone by his absence; he was at the ramparts, or was supposed to be there; but his wife, his children, his bonne, and his kitchen wench issued forth, oblivious alike of dull care and of bombarding Prussians, to enjoy themselves after their wont by gossiping and lolling in the sun. The Strasburg fetish had its usual crowd of admirers. Every bench in the Champs Elysees was occupied. Guitars twanged, organs were ground, merry-go-rounds were in full swing, and had it not been that here and there some regiment was drilling, one would have supposed oneself in some country fair. There were but few men; no fine toilets, no private carriages. It was a sort of Greenwich-park. At the Arc de Triomphe was a crowd trying to discover what was going on upon the heights above Argenteuil. Some declared they saw Prussians, while others with opera glasses declared that the supposed Prussians were only trees. In the Avenue de l'Imperatrice was a large crowd gazing upon the Fort of Mont Valerien. This fort, because I presume it is the strongest for defence, is the favourite of the Parisians. They love it as a sailor loves his ship. "If I were near enough," said a girl near me, "I would kiss it." "Let me carry your kiss to it," replied a Mobile, and the pair embraced, amid the cheers of the people round them. At Auteuil there were fiacres full of sightseers, come to watch the Prussian batteries at Meudon, which could be distinctly seen. Occasionally, too, there came a puff of smoke from one of the gunboats.
Do the Prussians really mean to starve us out? The Government gave out a fortnight ago that there was food then within the city for two months' consumption for a population of two millions. It is calculated that, including the Mobiles, there are not above 1,500,000 mouths at present to feed, so that with proper care the supplies may be made to last for three months. Prices are, however, already rising. We have a bread and a meat maximum, but to force a butcher to sell you a cutlet at the tariff price, one has to go with a corporal's guard, which cannot always be procured. The Gazette Officielle contains a decree regulating the sale of horse-flesh. I presume if the siege lasts long enough, dogs, rats, and cats will be tariffed. I have got 1000 francs with me. It is impossible to draw upon England; consequently, I see a moment coming when, unless rats are reasonable, I shall not be able to afford myself the luxury of one oftener than once a week. When I am at the end of my 1000 francs, I shall become an advocate for Felix Pyat's public tables, at which, as far as I understand his plan, those who have money pay, and those who have not, eat.
Yesterday was a quiet day. The forts occasionally fired to "sound the enemy's lines," but that was all. But how is it all to end? In a given time the Parisians will eat themselves out and fire themselves out. The credulity of the public is as great as ever. We are told that "France is rising, and that in a few weeks three armies will throw themselves on the Prussians, who are already utterly disorganised." In vain I ask, "But what if these three armies do not make their appearance?" I am regarded as an idiot for venturing to discredit a notorious fact. If I dared, I would venture to suggest to some of my warlike friends that a town which simply defends itself by shutting its gates, firing into space, and waiting for apocryphal armies, is not acting a very heroic part.
M.F. Pyat announces in the Combat that the musket of honour which is to be given to the man who shoots the King of Prussia is to have inscribed upon it the word "Peacemaker." We have taken it into our heads that the German army, Count Bismarck, the Crown Prince, and all the Generals of the Corps d'Armee are in favour of peace, and the only obstacle to its being at once concluded lies in the obstinacy of the Monarch, whom we usually term "that mystic drunkard."
The Rappel contains the report of a meeting which was held last night of all the Republican Committees. Resolutions were adopted blaming the Government for putting off the municipal elections. The adjournment, however, of these elections is, I am convinced, regarded as a salutary measure by a majority even of the ultras.
I dropped into the English Embassy this morning to see what was doing there. Mr. Wodehouse, I understand, intends to leave before the bombardment commences. He is a civilian, and cannot be blamed for this precautionary measure. I cannot, however, but suppose that the military attache, who is a colonel in the army, will remain. There is a notion among the members of the Corps Diplomatique that the Prussians before they bombard the town will summon it to surrender. But it seems to me very doubtful whether they will do so. Indeed, I for one shall not believe in a general bombardment before I see it. To starve us out seems to me their safest game. Were they to fire on the town, the public opinion of the civilised world would pronounce against them.
The Mobiles, who receive 1 franc 50 centimes a day, complain that they are unable to support themselves on this pittance. The conduct of these peasants is above all praise. Physically and morally they are greatly the superiors of the ordinary run of Parisians. They are quiet, orderly, and, as a rule, even devout. Yesterday I went into the Madeleine, where some service was going on. It was full of Mobiles listening to the prayers of the priest. The Breton regiments are accompanied by their priests, who bless them before they go on duty. If the Parisians were not so thoroughly conceited, one might hope that the presence of these villagers would have a beneficial effect upon them, and show them that the Frenchmen out of Paris are worth more than those within it. The generation of Parisians which has arrived at manhood during the existence of the Empire is, perhaps, the most contemptible that the world has ever seen. If one of these worthies is rich enough, his dream has been to keep a mistress in splendour; if this has been above his means, he has attempted to hang on to some wealthy vaurien. The number of persons without available means who somehow managed to live on the fat of the land without ever doing a single day's honest work had become enormous. Most of them have, on some pretext or other, sneaked out of Paris. One sees now very few ribbons of the Legion of Honour, notwithstanding the reckless profusion with which this order was lavished. The Emperor's flock, marked with the red streak, have disappeared.
We have received news through a carrier pigeon that one of the postal balloons has reached Tours. I trust that it will have carried my letter to you. I intend henceforward to confide my letter to the post every second day, and as I have got a copying machine, to send copy by any messenger who is attempting to run the blockade. We are told that balloons are to leave every evening; but as the same announcement informs us that they will not only take letters but officials appointed to functions in the provinces, I am afraid that there is almost too much promised to render it likely that the programme will be carried out.
I have just made an attempt to see what is going on between the forts and the ramparts, which has been a failure. I had obtained an order to circulate for the necessities of the defence from a member of the Government, and with this in my pocket I presented myself at several of the gates. In vain I showed my pass, in vain I insisted upon the serious consequences to Paris in general, and to the officer whom I was addressing in particular, if I were not allowed to fulfil my circulating mission. I had to give it up at last, and to content myself with circulating inside the ramparts. On them, however, I managed to get, thanks to a tradesman with whom I had often dealt, who was in command. I was told that a member of the Government, his name no one seemed to know, had addressed the "poste" yesterday, and urged the men to resist until one or other of the armies which were forming in the provinces could arrive and crush the enemy. Everything appeared, where I was, ready for an attack. The sentinels were posted at short intervals, the artillerymen were lying about near their guns, and in the Rue des Remparts there were several hundred National Guards. They seemed to be taking things easily, complained that the nights were a little chilly and that business at home was at a standstill. In the course of my walk I saw a great many barricades in process of formation. Eventually, I presume, we shall have a second line of defences within the outer walls. This second line has already been divided, like the ramparts, into nine sections, each with a separate commander. I met at least a dozen soi-disant Prussian spies being conducted to prison. Each of them was surrounded by twelve men, with bayonets fixed. Coming home I saw nine French soldiers with placards bearing the inscription, "Miserable cowards." Of course, the usual crowd accompanied them. I heard that they were on their way to be shot.
The newspapers of this afternoon make a good deal of noise about the exploits of the gunboat in the bend of the Seine between Point du Jour and Boulogne. They claim that its gun has dismounted the Prussian batteries on the terrace of Meudon, and that it successfully engaged several field batteries which fired upon it from the Park of St. Cloud. This may or may not be true. We are also called upon to believe that five shots from Fort Ivry destroyed the Prussian batteries at Choisy le Roi.
The latest proclamation issued is one from General Trochu, in which he says that it was the fault of no one that the redoubts which were in course of construction when the Prussians arrived before the town were not finished, and that they were abandoned for strategical reasons.
The latest Ultra paper publishes the account of a meeting which was remarkable, it observes, for the "excellent spirit which animated it, and the serious character of the speeches which were delivered at it." This is one of these serious orations—"The Citizen Arthur de Fonvielle recommends all citizens to exercise the greatest vigilance as regards the manoeuvres of the police, and more especially those of the Prefet of the Police. This Ministry has passed from the hands of a Corsican into those of one of the assassins of the Mexican Republic." I derive considerable amusement from the perusal of the articles which are daily published reviling the world in general for not coming to the aid of Paris. I translate the opening paragraphs of one of them which I have just read:—"In the midst of events which are overwhelming us, there is something still more melancholy than our defeat: it is our isolation. For a month the world has looked on with an impassibility, mingled with shame and cynicism, at the ruin of a capital which possesses the most exquisite gifts of sociability, the principal jewel of Europe, and the eternal ornament of civilisation." Nothing like having a good opinion of oneself.
I hear of some one going to try to-morrow to get through the lines, so I give him a copy of this letter. My last letter went off—or rather did not go off—by a private balloon. The speculator rushed in, just as I expected him to be off, and said, "Celestine has burst." To my horror I discovered that he was speaking of the balloon. He then added, "Ernestine remains to us," and to Ernestine I confided my letter. I have not seen the speculator since; it may be that Ernestine has burst too.
The latest canard is that 10,000 Prussians are in a wood near Villejuif, where they have been driven by the French. As they in the most cowardly manner decline to come out of it, the wily Parisian braves are rubbing the outer circle of trees over with petroleum, as a preparatory step to burn them out. This veracious tale is believed by two-thirds of Paris.
September 27th, 8 A.M.
I have sent you numerous letters, but I am not aware whether you have received them. As very probably they are now either in the clouds or in the moon, I write a short resume of what has passed since we have been cut off from the outer world, as I believe that I have a very good chance this morning to communicate with you.
When the town was first invested the greatest disorder existed. For a few days officers, even generals, were shot at by regiments outside the fortifications; the National Guards performed their service on the ramparts very reluctantly, and, when possible, shirked it. The Mobiles were little better than an armed mob of peasants. The troops of the line were utterly demoralised. The streets were filled with troopers staggering about half drunk, and groups of armed Mobiles wandering in ignorance of the whereabouts of their quarters and of their regiments. The Government was divided into two parties—one supported by the Moderates, and anxious to make peace on reasonable terms; the other supported by the Ultras, and determined to continue the contest at all hazards. The Ministers were almost in despair at finding the utter disorder in which everything had been left by their predecessors. Little by little this condition of things has mended for the better. Since the failure of the mission of M. Jules Favre, and the exorbitant demands which were then put forward by Count Bismarck, both Moderates and Ultras have supported the men who are in power. It is felt by all that if Paris is to be defended with any prospect of success, there must be absolute union among its defenders. The Deputies of Paris are not thought, perhaps, to be endowed with any very great administrative ability, but Mr. Lincoln's proverb respecting the difficulty of a person changing his horse whilst he is crossing a stream is acted on, and so long as they neither commit any signal act of folly, nor attempt to treat with Prussia either for peace or a capitulation, I think that no effort will be made to oust them. They are, I believe, doing their best to organise the defence of this city, and if they waste a little time in altering the names of the streets, and publishing manifestoes couched in grand and bombastic phrases, it must be remembered that they have to govern Frenchmen who are fond of this species of nonsense. With respect to the military situation, the soldiers of all sorts are kept well together, and appear to be under the command of their officers. The National Guard, although it still grumbles a little, does its duty on the ramparts. The soldiers of the line are kept outside the town. The Mobiles have passed many hours in drill during the last ten days; they are orderly and well conducted, and if not soldiers already, are a far more formidable force than they were at the commencement of the siege. Whether they will ever become available for operations in the open field is, perhaps, questionable, for their regiments would probably be thrown into confusion if called upon to act together. Within the line of the forts, however, there is no reason to suppose that they will not fight well. The forts are manned by sailors, who are excellent artillerists, and the guns are formidable ones. On the Seine there is a flotilla of gunboats. The city has food and ammunition for two months. Paris, therefore, ought to be able to hold out for these two months. She has her own population, a large portion of which consists of the working men, who have never been backward in fighting. The provinces have been drained of their best blood, which has been brought up to the capital. All that remains of the French army is here. At the lowest average the armed force in Paris amounts to 450,000 men, and there are about 500,000 more from which this force can recruit itself. If, then, the capital does not hold out for two months, she will deserve the contempt of the world—if she does hold out for this period, she will at least have saved her honour, and, to a certain extent, the military reputation of France.
The newspapers are still pursuing the very questionable policy of exaggerating every little affair of the outposts into a victory, and assuring those who read their lucubrations that powerful armies are on the march to raise the siege. The only real military event of any consequence which has taken place has resulted in a Prussian success. The French were driven back from some half-finished redoubts at Chatillon, and the Prussians now occupy the heights between Sevres and Meudon, from whence, if they establish batteries, they will be able to shell a portion of the town. In the second affair which took place, absurd stories have been repeated respecting the advantages gained by the French; but they are, to say the least, extremely apocryphal, and even were they true they are of small importance. For the last few days the forts have fired upon any Prussian troops that either were or were supposed to be within shot; and the gunboats have attempted to prevent the erection of batteries on the Sevres-Meudon plateau. In point of fact, the siege has not really commenced; and until it is seen how this vast population bears its hardships, how the forts resist the guns which may be brought to bear upon them, and how the armed force conducts itself under fire, it is impossible to speculate upon results.
Considering the utter stagnation in trade, the number of working men out of employment, and the irritation caused by defeat, it must be admitted that the Parisians of all classes are behaving themselves well. The rich residents have fled, and left to their poorer neighbours the task of defending their native city. There have been no tumults or disorders, except those caused by the foolish mania of supposing every one who is not known must necessarily be a spy. Political manifestations have taken place before the Hotel de Ville, but the conciliatory policy adopted by the Government has prevented their degenerating into excesses. Public opinion, too, has pronounced against them. From what I have heard and observed, I am inclined to think that the majority of the bourgeoisie are in favour of a capitulation, but that they do not venture to say so; and that the majority of the working men are opposed to peace on any terms. They do not precisely know themselves what would be the result of holding out, but they vaguely trust to time, and to the chapter of accidents. In the middle and upper classes there are also many who take the same view of the situation. "Let us," they say, "hold out for two months, and the condition of things will in all probability be altered, and if so, as we cannot be worse off, any change must be to our advantage."
Shut up with the Parisians in Paris, I cannot help feeling a good deal of sympathy for them, notwithstanding their childish vanity, their mendacity, and their frivolity. I sincerely trust, therefore, if they do seriously resist their besiegers, that the assurances of the Government that there are ample supplies of food and of ammunition, are not part of the system of official lying which was pursued by their predecessors; and I hope that the grandiloquent boasts and brave words that one hears from morning to night will be followed by brave deeds.
This morning Messenger Johnson was sent off with despatches to England from the British Embassy. He was provided with a safe-conduct, signed by General Trochu, and a letter to the Commandant of the Fort of Vanves, enjoining him to forward Mr. Johnson under a flag of truce to the Prussian lines. At half-past nine Messenger Johnson, arrayed in a pair of high boots with clanking spurs, the belongings, I presume, of a Queen's messenger, stepped into his carriage, with that "I should like to see any one touch me" air which is the badge of his tribe. His coachman being already drunk, he was accompanied by a second man, who undertook to drive until Jehu had got over the effect of his potations. I myself have always regarded Queen's messengers as superior beings, to be addressed with awe, and whose progress no one would venture to arrest. Such, however, was not the opinion of the National Guards who were on duty at the gate through which Messenger Johnson sought to leave this beleagured town. In vain Messenger Johnson showed his pass; in vain he stated that he was a free-born Briton and a Queen's messenger. These suspicious patriots ignored the pass, and scoffed at the Civis Romanus. In fact, I tremble as I write it, several of them said they felt somewhat inclined to shoot any Briton, and more particularly a Queen's Messenger, whilst others proposed to prod Messenger Johnson with their bayonets in his tenderest parts. Exit under these circumstances was impossible. For some time Messenger Johnson sat calm, dignified, and imperturbable in the midst of this uproar, and then made a strategical retreat to the Ministry of War. He was there given an officer to accompany him; he again set forth, and this time he was more fortunate, for he got through the gate, and vanished from our horizon. I called at the Embassy this afternoon, and found our representative, Mr. Wodehouse, confident that Messenger Johnson would arrive at his destination. Mr. Wodehouse when I left him was engaged in pacifying a lunatic, who had forced his way into the Embassy, and who insisted that he was the British Ambassador. I was surprised to learn that there are still at least 3000 of our countrymen and women in Paris. Most of them are in a state of absolute destitution, some because they have no means, others because they are unable to draw upon the funds in England. Mr. Herbert has established a species of soup kitchen, so they will not starve until we all do. Mr. Wallace, the heir of Lord Hertford, who had already given the munificent donation of 12,000l. to the Ambulance fund, has also provided funds for their most pressing wants.