CHAPTER XII. PARIS IN 1870: JULY, AUGUST, AND SEPTEMBER.
As soon as relations became "strained" between France and Germany, according to the term used in diplomacy, the king of Prussia ordered home all his subjects who had found employment in France, especially those in Alsace and Lorraine. Long before this, those provinces had been overrun with photographers, pedlers, and travelling workmen, commissioned to make themselves fully acquainted with the roads, the by-paths, the resources of the villages, and the character of the rural officials. In the case of France, however, though all the reports concerning military stores looked well on paper, the old guns mounted on the frontier fortresses were worthless, and the organization of the army was so imperfect that scarcely more than two hundred thousand troops could be sent to defend the French frontier from Switzerland to Luxemburg; while Germany, with an army that could be mobilized in eleven days, was ready by the 1st of August to pour five hundred thousand men across the Rhine. The emperor placed great reliance on his mitrailleuses, - a new engine of war that would fire a volley of musketry at once, but which, though horribly murderous, has not proved of great value in actual warfare. Towards the Rhine were hurried soldiers, recruits, cannon, horses, artillery, ammunition, wagons full of biscuit and all manner of munitions of war. The roads between Strasburg and Belfort were blocked up, and in the disorder nobody seemed to know what should be done. Every one was trying to get orders. The telegraph lines were reserved for the Government. Quartermasters were roaming about in search of their depots, colonels were looking for their regiments, generals for their brigades or divisions. There were loud outcries for salt, sugar, coffee, bacon, and bridles. Maps of Germany as far as the shores of the Baltic were being issued to soldiers who, alas! were never to pass their own frontier. But while this was the situation near the seat of war, in other parts of France the scene was different, especially in Brest and other seaports. These towns were crowded with soldiers and sailors; the streets were filled with half-drunken recruits bawling patriotic sentiments in tipsy songs. And now, for the first time since the Empire came into existence, might be heard the unaccustomed strains of the "Marseillaise." It had been long suppressed in France; but when war became imminent, it was encouraged for the purpose of exciting military ardor.
[Footnote 1: Erckmann-Chatrian, La Plebiscite.]
Every day in the provincial towns the war fever grew fiercer. The bugle sounded incessantly in the streets of any place where there were troops in garrison. Regiment followed regiment on its way into Paris, changing quarters or marching to depots to receive equipments. Orderlies galloped madly about, and heavy ammunition wagons lumbered noisily over the pavements. Everybody shouted "A Berlin," and took up the chorus of the "Marseillaise." The post-offices and telegraph-offices were crowded with soldiers openly dictating their messages to patient officials who put them into shape, and it was said that nearly every telegram contained the words, "Please send me..." Alas, poor fellows! it is probable that nothing sent them in reply was ever received.
[Footnote 1: I am indebted for much in this chapter to a private journal.]
Parisians or residents in Paris all believed at that time in the prestige of the French army; only here and there a German exile muttered in his beard something about Sadowa.
On July 27 all Paris assembled on the Boulevards to see the Garde Imperiale take its departure for the frontier. This Imperial Guard was a choice corps created by Napoleon III. at the outset of the Crimean War. It was a force numbering nominally twenty thousand infantry and three thousand cavalry. It was a very popular corps, and the war with Germany was popular; consequently the march from its barracks to the railroad station was one continued triumph. At every halt the Parisians pressed into the ranks with gifts of money, wine, and cigars. "Vive l'armee!" shouted the multitude. "A Berlin!" responded the troops; and now and then, as the bands struck up the "Marseillaise," the population and the troops burst out in chorus with the solemn, spirit-stirring words.
At the head of this brilliant host rode Marshal Le Boeuf, who was minister of war and military tutor to the Prince Imperial. After the departure of the main body of the corps, large detachments of cavalry and artillery which belonged to it were expected to follow; but they remained behind in the provinces, because Lyons, Marseilles, and Algeria, all centres of the revolutionary spirit, could not, it was found, be left without armed protection. Therefore only a portion of the crack corps of the French army went forward to the frontier, - a fact never suspected by the public until events, a few weeks later, made it known.
Paris was jubilant. The theatres especially became centres of patriotic demonstrations. At the Grand Opera House, Auber's "Massaniello" (called in France the "Muette de Portici") was announced. For many years its performance had been interdicted under the Second Empire, the story being one of heroic revolt. The time had come, however, when its ardent patriotism entitled it to resuscitation. Faure, the most remarkable baritone singer of the period, suddenly, at the beginning of the second act, which opens with a chorus of fishermen inciting each other to resist oppression, appeared upon the stage bearing the French flag. The chorus ranged themselves to right and left as he strode forward and waved the tricolor above the footlights. The house broke into wild uproar, cheer after cheer rose for the flag, for the singer, for France.