CHAPTER XIII. THE SIEGE OF PARIS.
Louis Philippe, in 1841, had planned the fortifications of Paris, but in his time they had been only partially constructed. Even in 1870, as I have said, they were not complete. When the siege became imminent, the first thing to be done was to put them in good order; but for a week the working-men in Paris were so intoxicated with the idea of having a republic that they could not be made to do steady work upon anything. It was also considered necessary to cut down all trees and to destroy all villages between the forts and the walls of the city, so that they might afford no shelter to the Prussians. The poor inhabitants of these villages flocked into Paris, bringing with them carts piled with their household goods, their wives and children peeping out aghast between the chairs and beds. The beautiful trees in the Bois de Boulogne were cut down; the deer and the swans and other wild fowl on the lakes (long the pets of the Parisian holiday makers) were shot by parties of Mobiles sent out for that purpose.
No military man believed that Paris, defended by uncompleted fortifications, could withstand a direct attack from the Prussians; no one dreamed of a blockade, for it was thought that it would take a million and a quarter of men to invest the city, and the Prussians were known not to have that number for the purpose. The idea was that the enemy would choose some point, would attack it with all his forces, would lose probably thirty thousand men, and would take the city. But Bismarck and King William and Von Moltke had no idea of losing thirty thousand men. They were certain that there would be risings and disturbances in Paris. They believed that their forces might even be called in to save respectable Parisians from the outrages of the Reds. They knew that rural France, having little love for Paris or the Republic, was not likely to accept the Government formed without its own consent, nor march to the assistance of the capital. Even should the provincial population bestir itself, the troops it could send would be only raw levies, and there was no great leader to animate or to direct popular enthusiasm.
It was quite true that the respectable classes in Paris had as much to fear from the Reds as from the Prussians. The mob of Paris was wild for a commune.
It is not always known what is meant by a commune, and I may be pardoned if I pause to define it here.
In feudal times cities all over Europe won for themselves charters. By these charters they acquired the right to govern themselves; that is, the burghers elected their own mayor and their councilor aldermen, and this body governing the community was called the commune. When the feudal system fell in France, and all power was centralized in the king, city governments were established by royal edict only. Paris, for instance, was governed by the Prefect of the Seine, - he had under him the maires of twenty Arrondissements; and thus it was in every French city. All public offices in France were in the gift of the Throne.
To Americans, who have mayors and city councils in every city, municipal taxation, municipal elections, and municipal laws, a commune appears the best mode of city government. But if we can imagine one of our large cities possessing the same power over the United States that Paris wields over France, we shall take a different view of the matter. Paris governed by a commune, that commune being elected by a mob and aspiring to give laws to France, might well indeed have alarmed all Frenchmen. We may judge of its feeling towards the Provinces from the indignation expressed by Parisian Communists when during the Commune, Lyons and some other cities talked of setting up communes of their own.
In olden times, in France, Italy, and Germany (as in Great Britain at the present day), it was not the mob, but the burghers, whose interests depended upon the prosperity of their city, who voted in municipal elections. France had established universal suffrage, and the restless "men of Belleville," - the "white blouses," - were liable in any time of excitement to be joined by roughs from other cities, and by all working-men out of employment. These apprehensions of the respectable citizens of Paris were horribly realized in 1871. The new Republic, meantime, was not Red, not Communistic, not Socialistic, but Republican.
During the Revolution of 1848 there had been little intoxication in Paris; but in the twenty-two years that followed, the French had learned to drink absinthe and to frequent such places as "L'Assommoir." All accounts speak of the drunkenness in France during the Franco-Prussian war.
Meantime, during the two weeks that preceded the arrival of the Prussians, the streets of Paris were crowded with men in every variety of uniform, - francs-tireurs in their Opera Comique costume, cuirassiers, artillerymen, lancers, regulars, National Guards, and Mobiles. Carriages were mixed up with heavy wagons loaded sometimes with worthless household goods, sometimes with supplies. Peasants' carts were seen in the midst of frightened flocks of sheep driven by bewildered shepherds. Everybody was in some one's way. All was confusion, excitement, - and exhilaration.
Till September 19 the railways continued to run. Then the fifty-one gates of Paris were closed, the railroad entrances were walled up, and the following notice appeared upon the walls: -