CHAPTER XV. THE COMMUNE.
Having been charged by you with the War Department, I feel myself no longer capable of bearing the responsibility of a command where everyone deliberates and nobody obeys. When it was necessary to organize the artillery, the commandant of artillery deliberated, but nothing was done. After a month's revolution, that service is carried on by only a very small number of volunteers. On my nomination to the ministry I wanted to further the search for arms, the requisition for horses, the pursuit of refractory citizens. I asked help of the Commune; the Commune deliberated, but passed no resolutions. Later the Central Committee came and offered its services to the War Department. I accepted them in the most decisive manner, and delivered up to its members all the documents I had concerning its organization. Since then the Central Committee has been deliberating, and has done nothing. During this time the enemy multiplied his audacious attacks upon Fort Issy; had I had the smallest military force at my command, I would have punished him for it. The garrison, badly commanded, took to flight. The officers deliberated, and sent away from the fort Captain Dumont, an energetic man who had been ordered to command them. Still deli berating, they evacuated the fort, after having stupidly talked of blowing it up, - as difficult a thing for them to do as to defend it.... My predecessor was wrong to remain, as he did, three weeks in such an absurd position. Enlightened by his example, and knowing that the strength of a revolutionist consists only in the clearness of his position, I have but two alternatives, - either to break the chains which impede my actions, or to retire. I will not break my chains, because those chains are you and your weakness. I will not touch the sovereignty of the people.
I retire, and have the honor to beg for a cell at Mazas.
He did not obtain the cell at Mazas. He escaped from the vengeance of his colleagues, and was supposed to be in England or Switzerland, while in reality he had never quitted Paris. He was arrested two weeks after the fall of the Commune, disguised as a railroad employee. He was examined at the Luxembourg, and then taken, handcuffed, to Versailles, where he was shot at Satory, though M. Thiers, the president, made vain efforts to save him.
The members of the Commune, who by the first week in May were reduced to fifty-three, met in the Hotel-de-Ville in a vast room once hung with the portraits of sovereigns. The canvas of these pictures had been cut out, but the empty frames still hung upon the walls; while at one end of the chamber was a statue of the Republic dressed in red flags, and bearing the inscription, "War to Tyrants."
Reporters were not admitted, and spectators could be brought in only by favor of some member. The members sat upon red-velvet chairs, each girt with his red scarf of office, trimmed with heavy bullion fringe. The chairs were placed round a long table, on which was stationery for the members' use, carafes of water, and sugar for eau sucree. It was an awe-inspiring assembly; "for the men who talked, held a city of two millions of inhabitants in their hands, and were free to put into practice any or all of the amazing theories that might come into their heads. Their speeches, however, were brief; they were not wordy, as they might have been if reporters had been present. Most of them wore uniforms profusely decorated with gold lace," and, says an Englishman who saw them in their seats, "one had only to look in their faces to judge the whole truth in connection with the Commune, - its causes, its prospects, and its signification. A citizen whom I had heard of as most hotly in favor of Press freedom, proposed in my hearing that all journals in Paris should be suppressed save those that were edited by members of the Council of the Commune. That there were three or four earnest men among them, no one can dispute; but as to the rest, I can only say that if they were zealous patriots devoted to their country's good, they did not, when I saw them, look like it."
[Footnote 1: Cornhill Magazine, 1871.]
In the first week of May the Commune decreed the destruction of M. Thiers's beautiful home in the Rue St. Georges. The house was filled with objects of art and with documents of historical interest which he had gathered while writing his History of the Revolution, the Consulate, and the First Empire.
The Commune had removed some of these precious things, and sold them to dealers, from whom many were afterwards recovered; but the mob which assembled to execute the decree of destruction, was eager to consume everything that was left. In the courtyard were scattered books and pictures waiting to feed the flames. "The men busy at the work looked," says an Englishman, "like demons in the red flame. I turned away, thinking not of the man of politics, but of the historian, of the house where he had thought and worked, of the books that he had treasured on his shelves, of the favorite chair that had been burned upon his hearthstone. I thought of all the dumb witnesses of a long and laborious life dispersed, of all the memories those rooms contained destroyed."
[Footnote 2: Leighton, Paris under the Commune.]