Heinrich Heine: French Affairs Pt. 2

Excerpt, Works of Heinrich Heine, Volume 14. Translator Charles Godfrey Leland.


The June Rebellion

Paris, June 7, 1832

When I went yesterday to the Bourse to throw my letter in the post-box, there stood there the whole race of speculators between the columns and before the broad stairs. And as the news had just been received that the defeat of the patriots was certain, the sweetest content was seen in every face — one might say that the whole Bourse smiled. Amid the roar of cannon, the funds shot up ten percent. That is to say, they fired at five o’clock, and at six the Revolution had been quelled.

Then the newspapers could communicate as much information as they pleased. The Constitutionnel and the Debats seem to a certain degree to have correctly understood or hit what happened, but the colour and measurements are incorrect. I have just come from the theatre of the strife of yesterday, when I convinced myself how difficult it would be to get at the truth. This theatre (Schauplatz) is one of the greatest and densely inhabited streets of Paris, i.e. the Rue Saint-Martin, which, beginning at the gate of that name on the Boulevards, ends on the Seine at the Bridge Notre Dame. At both ends of the street I heard the number of the patriots, or, as they are called today, the rebels, who fought there, esteemed at from five hundred to a thousand; but, in the middle of the street the sum became less, and in the very centre it was reduced to fifty. “What is truth?” said Pontius Pilate.

The number of troops of the line is easier to give. Yesterday even the Journal de Debats declares there was forty thousand men ready for action in Paris. Add to these at least twenty thousand National Guards, and we find that a mere handful of insurgents fought with sixty thousand men! The heroism of these insanely brave men is unanimously praised; they indeed achieved miracles of bravery. They cried continually, “Viva la Republique!” but it found no echo in the breasts of the people. Had they instead cried, “Viva Napoleon!” then (as is generally declared today in all groups of the people) the line would hardly have fired on them, and the great masses of the workers would have joined them. But they scorned a lie, for they were the purest, if not the craftiest, friends of freedom.

And yet people are stupid enough to declare today that they were acting in intelligence with the Carlists! Verily, he who fights unto death for the holy delusion of his heart and for the beautiful error of an ideal future, will never ally himself to that cowardly filth which the past has left us under the name of “Carlists.” I am, by God! no republican. I know that if the Republicans conquer, they will cut my throat — and that because I will not admire what they admire; but, still, the tears rose in my eyes today when I trod the place which was still wet with their blood. It would have pleased me more had I, and all my fellow moderates, have died in place of those Republicans.

The National Guards rejoice greatly over their victory. In the intoxication of victory, they came yesterday evening very near sending an unsanitary bullet through my body, although I belong to their party – for they shot heroically at anyone who came near their post. It was a rainy, starless, repulsive evening, with little light in the streets, since almost all of the shops were closed as they had been all day. Today, however, all is in gay movement, and one would hardly believe that anything had taken place. Even in the Rue Saint-Martin, all the shops are open.

Though it is difficult to walk there on account of the turned up pavement and the remains of the barricades, still a great multitude whirls on through the street, which is very long and narrow, with the homes being built extremely high. Nearly all of the windows there were broken from the sound of the cannon, and we everywhere behold the marks of the balls; for cannon were discharged into the street from both sides, so that the Republicans were driven right into the middle. It is said that yesterday they were at last shut in on every side in the Church Saint-Mery, but this I heard denied upon the spot. A somewhat prominent house called the Cafe Leclerque, which is situated on the Alley Saint-Mery, seems to have been the headquarters of the Republicans. Here they held out the longest, here they made their final stand. They asked for no mercy, and were mostly slain by the bayonet. Here fell the pupils of Ecole d’Alfort, and here the warmest blood in France ran.

It is, however, a mistake to assume that the Republicans existed entirely of young madcaps or fire-eaters. Many old men fought among them. A young woman with whom I conversed near the Church Saint-Mery bewailed the death of her grandfather. He had always lived very peaceably, but when he saw the red flag and heard “Viva la Republique!” he ran with an old pike to the young people, and died with them. Poor old man heard the ranches des vaches of “The Mountain” and the memory of his first love of freedom awoke, and he would fain dream once more the dream of his youth. Sleep well!

The consequences of this wrecked revolution may be seen in advance. More than a thousand men have been arrested, among them, as is reported, a deputy, Garnier Pages. The Liberal journals are suppressed. The shopkeeper world rejoices, egoism flourishes, and many of the best men must needs go into mourning. The system of terror will require many more victims. The National Guard is already frightened at its own force; these heroes are terrified when they see themselves in a mirror. The King, the great strong Louis Philippe, will bestow many crosses of honour. The hired wit will ridicule the friends of freedom though in their graves; even the latter are now called enemies of public peace and assassins.

A tailor who dared this morning in the Place Vendome to allude to the good intentions of the Republicans was beaten by a powerful woman, who was probably his wife. This is the counter-revolution.

Paris, June 8, 1832

It appears that it was not an entirely red, but a red-black golden banner which Lafayette crowned with immortelles at the funeral of Lamarque. This fabulous flag, which was unknown to everybody, was supposed by many to be a Republican standard. I knew it well, and thought at once: “Great heaven! Why, these are our old Burschenschaft colours; today will be either a disaster or something stupid!” Unfortunately, both came to pass. When the dragoons in the beginning of the hostilities also attacked the Germans who followed that flag, they barricaded themselves behind the great beams of a carpenter’s shop. After a while, they retreated to the Jardin des Plantes, and the flag was rescued, though in a very tattered condition.

To the Frenchman who have asked of me the meaning of this black-red-gold banner, I have conscientiously replied that the Emperor Barbarossa, who has lived for many centuries in Kyffhaeuser, sent us that flag as a sign that the ancient land of dreams still exists, and that he himself is to come with sword and septre. As for me, I do not believe that it will so soon come to pass; there are as yet too many black ravens flying round the mountain.

Here in Paris, affairs look less dream-like. There are bayonets and watchful military faces in every street. I regarded it at first as a mere unmeaning sign of alarm that people declared that Paris was in a state of siege. It was supposed that this declaration would be promptly recalled; but as I yesterday afternoon saw more and more cannon passing along the Rue Richelieu, I observed that the overthrow of the Republicans would be turned to profit against other enemies of the Government or the journalists.

It is now the question as to whether the “good-will” is coupled with the requisite strength. They are now turning to profit the amazement of their victory of the National Guards, who, as regards the Republicans, have taken part in most vigorous measures, and whose hands Louis Philippe is now shaking as intimately as ever. Since people hate the Carlists and distrust the Republicans, they support the King as the maintainer of order, and he is as popular as a delightful necessity. Yes I have heard, “Viva le Roi!” cried as the King rode along the Boulevards, but I also saw a tall man near the Faubourg Montmartre who advanced to the king and boldly cried, “A bas Louis Philippe!” Several riders in the King’s suite at once descended from their horses and carried the intruder away.

I have never known Paris to be so sultry as it was yesterday evening. Despite the bad weather, the public places were crowded. The groups of politicians assembled in the Palais Royal and conversed in subdued tones – in fact, very much subdued – for one may now be brought before a military tribunal and shot within twenty-four hours. I began to long again for the slow and lazy course of law in my Germany. The lawless condition in which we find ourselves here is repulsive.

That is a greater evil than the cholera. As people were tormented when the disease raged by the successive numbers of deaths, so they are now terrified by the fearful amount of arrests, or when they hear the secret fussilades, and while a thousand dark rumors spread in obscurity, as was the case yesterday. Today by sunlight, there is more confidence and calm. The world admits that it was alarmed yesterday, and now we are more vexed than frightened. There prevails at present a Juste-milieu terror.

The journals are more moderate in their protests, yet are far from being subdued. The National and the Temps speak out fearlessly, as becomes free men. I cannot communicate more as regards recent events than is to be found in the newspapers. People are quiet, and let matters come quietly. The Government is perhaps alarmed at the tremendous power which it finds that it really possesses. It has raised itself above the law — a serious position; for it is justly said, “Qui est au-dessus de la loi est hors de la loi.” The only argument with which many true friends of freedom defend the present powerful measures is the necessity which the royaute demoncratique feels of strengthening itself at home in order to take hold more powerfully abroad.

To be continued …