CHAPTER XV. THE COMMUNE.
The mission to Versailles having been productive of no results, the election for a commune was held. The extremest men were chosen in every quarter of the city, and formed what was called the Council of the Commune. It held its sittings in the Hotel-de-Ville, and consisted at first of eighty members, seventy of whom had never been heard of in Paris before. Its numbers dwindled rapidly, from various causes, especially in the latter days of the Commune. Among them were Poles, Italians, and even Germans; two of the eighty claimed to be Americans.
The first act of the Council of the Commune was to take possession of the Hotel-de-Ville and to celebrate the inauguration of the new government by a brilliant banquet; its first decree was that no tenant need pay any back rent from October, 1870, to April, 1871, - the time during which the siege had lasted. It lost no time in inviting Garibaldi to assume the command of the National Guard. This Garibaldi declined at once, saying that a commandant of the National Guard, a commander-in-chief of Paris, and an executive committee could not act together. "What Paris needs," he said, "is an honest dictator, who will choose honest men to act under him. If you should have the good fortune to find a Washington, France will recover from shipwreck, and in a short time be grander than ever."
On April 3 the civil war broke out, - Paris against Versailles; the army under the National Assembly against the National Guard under the Commune. The Prussians from the two forts which they still held, looked grimly on.
At the bridge of Courbevoie, near Neuilly, where the body of Napoleon had been landed thirty years before, a flag of truce was met by two National Guards. Its bearer was a distinguished surgeon, Dr. Pasquier. After a brief parley, one of the National Guards blew out the doctor's brains. When news of this outrage was brought to General Vinoy, he commanded the guns of Fort Valerien to be turned upon the city.
At five A. M. the next morning five columns of Federals marched out to take the fort. They were under the command of three generals, Bergeret, Duval, and Eudes. With Bergeret rode Lullier, who had been a naval officer, and Flourens, the popular favorite among the members of the Commune. The three divisions marched in full confidence that the soldiers under Vinoy would fraternize with them. They were wholly mistaken; the guns of Fort Valerien crashed into the midst of their columns, and almost at the same time Flourens, in a hand-to-hand struggle, was slain.
Flourens had begun life with every prospect of being a distinguished scientist. His father had been perpetual secretary of the Academy of Sciences and a professor in the College de France, in which his son succeeded him when he was barely twenty-one. His first lecture, on the "History of Man," created a great impression; but in 1864 he resigned his professorship, and thenceforward devoted all his energies to the cause of the oppressed. In Crete he fought against the Turks. He was always conspiring when at home in Paris; even when the Prussians were at its gates, he could not refrain. He was the darling of the Belleville population, whom in times of distress and trial he fed, clothed, and comforted. Sometimes he was in prison, sometimes in exile. "He was a madman, but a hero, and towards the poor and the afflicted as gentle as a sister of charity," said one who knew him.
Of the three generals who led the attack on Mont Valerien, Duval was captured and shot; Eudes and Bergeret got back to Paris in safety. But the latter, in company with Lullier, was at once sent to prison by the Central Committee, and a decree was issued that Paris should be covered with barricades. As the insurgents had plenty of leisure, these barricades were strong and symmetrical, though many of them were injudiciously placed.
Whilst the fight of the 4th of April was going on without the gates, the Central Committee was occupied in issuing decrees, by which Thiers, Favre, Simon, - in short, all the legitimate ministers, - were summoned to give themselves up to the Commune to be tried for their offences, or else all their property in Paris would be confiscated or destroyed.
The failure of the expedition under Bergeret made the Parisians furiously angry. In less than a week some of the best-known priests in Paris were arrested as hostages. The churches were all closed after the morning services on Easter Day; the arms were cut off from the crosses, and red flags were hung up in their stead. No one could be buried with Christian decency, or married with the Church's blessing.
"The motto of the Commune soon became fraternity of that sort," said a resident in Paris, "which means arrest each other." Before the Commune had been established two weeks, many of its leading members, besides Lullier and Bergeret, had found their way to prison.