CHAPTER XIX. THREE FRENCH PRESIDENT'S.
Gambetta's disappointment was very great. He had counted on his popularity, and had hoped to accomplish great things. He was a man of loose morals and of declining health, for, unsuspected by himself, a disorder from which he could never have recovered, was undermining his strength; this made him irritable. On the 30th of August, 1882, he was visiting, at a country house near Paris, a lady of impaired reputation; there he was shot in the hand. The wound brought on an illness, of which he died in December. It has never been known whether the shot was fired by the woman, as was generally suspected, or whether his own pistol, as he asserted, was accidentally discharged.
He was buried at Pere la Chaise, without religious services; but his coffin was followed by vast crowds, and all Frenchmen (even his enemies, and they were many) felt that his country had lost an honest patriot and a great man.
On the centennial anniversary of the opening act of the French Revolution, a statue of Gambetta was unveiled in the Place du Carrousel, the courtyard of French kings. No future king, if any such should be, will dare to displace it. Gambetta's life was a sad one, and his death was sadder still. With all his noble qualities, - and there are few things nobler in history than the manner in which he effaced himself to give place to his rival, - how great he might have been, had he learned early to apply his power of self-restraint to lesser things!
Gambetta wanted Paris to remain the city of cities, the centre of art, fashion, and culture; and he took up the Emperor Napoleon's policy of beautifying and improving it by costly public works. "Je veux ma republique belle, bien paree" ("I want my republic beautiful and well dressed") was a sentence which brought him into trouble with the Radicals, who said he had no right to say "my republic," as if he were looking forward to being its dictator. He voted for the return of the Communists from New Caledonia, and during the last two years of his life these returned exiles never ceased to thwart him and revile him. Some one had prophesied to him that this would be the case. "Bah!" he answered, "the poor wretches have suffered enough. I might have been transported myself, had matters turned out differently in 1870." Had he lived, it is probable that in 1886 he would have supplanted M. Grevy. "Nor," says one of his friends, "can it be doubted that, loving the Republic as he did, and having served it with so much devotion and honesty, he would have found in his love a power of self-restraint to keep him from courses that might have been hurtful to his own work." For the establishment of the Republic was principally "his own work." He proclaimed its birth, standing in a window of the Hotel de Ville in 1870; he gave it a baptism of some glory in the fiery, though hopeless, resistance he opposed to the German invasion; and he kept it standing at a time when it needed the support of a sturdy, vigilant champion. To the end it must be believed that he would, as far as in him lay, have preserved it from harm. Not long before his death, during a lull in his pain, which for a moment roused a hope of his recovery, he said to his doctor: "I have made many mistakes, but people must not imagine I am not aware of them; I often think over my faults, and if things go well I shall try the patience of my friends less often. On se corrige!"
[Footnote 1: Cornhill Magazine, 1883.]
When Gambetta was dead, the man who stepped into his place was Jules Ferry. He was a lawyer, born in the Vosges in 1832. He had never been personally intimate with Gambetta, but he succeeded to his political inheritance, became chief of his party, secured the majority that Gambetta never could get in the Chamber, and did all that Gambetta had failed to do.
His attention when prime minister was largely devoted to the development of French industry in colonies. He began a war in Tonquin, he annexed Tunis, and commenced aggressions in Madagascar. All of these enterprises have proved difficult, unprofitable, and wasteful of life and money.
The position of France with relation to other powers has become very isolated. Her best friend, strange to say, is Russia, - the young Republic and the absolute czar! Germany, Austria, and Italy form the alliance called the Dreibund. But their military force united is not quite equal to that of France and Russia combined. If Russia ever attacks the three powers of Central Europe on the East, it is not to be doubted that France will rush upon Alsace and Lorraine. The mob of Paris, in 1884, put M. Grevy to much annoyance and embarrassment by hissing and hooting the young king of Spain on his way through the French capital because he had accepted the honorary colonelcy of a German regiment, and M. Grevy and his Foreign Minister had profoundly to apologize. The incident was traceable, it was said at the time, to the indiscretions of M. Daniel Wilson, the president's son-in-law, whose melancholy story remains to be told.
Shortly before Gambetta's death, occurred that of the Prince Imperial in Zululand, and that of the Comte de Chambord in Austria.