CHAPTER XVI. THE HOSTAGES.
About once in every seventy or eighty years some exceptionally moving tragedy stirs the heart of the civilized world. The tragedy of our own century is the execution of the hostages in Paris, May 24 and 26, 1871.
At one o'clock on the morning of April 6, three weeks after the proclamation of the Commune, a body of the National Guard was drawn up on the sidewalk in the neighborhood of the Madeleine. A door suddenly opened and a man came hastily out, followed by two National Guards shouting to their comrades. The man was arrested at once, making no resistance. It was the Abbe Duguerry, cure of the Madeleine, - the first of the so-called hostages arrested in retaliation for the summary execution of General Duval, who had commanded one of the three columns that marched out of Paris the day before to attack the Versaillais.
[Footnote 1: Cure in France means rector; what we mean by a curate or assistant minister is there called vicaire.]
Both the cure of the Madeleine and his vicaire, the Abbe Lamazou, were that night arrested. The latter, who escaped death as a hostage, published an account of his experiences; but he died not long after of heart disease, brought on by his excitement and suffering during the Commune.
The same night Monseigneur Darboy, the archbishop of Paris, his chaplain, and eight other priests, were arrested. One was a missionary just returned from China, another was the Abbe Crozes, the admirable chaplain (aumonier) of the prison of La Roquette, - a man whose deeds of charity would form a noble chapter of Christian biography.
When Archbishop Darboy was brought before the notorious "delegate," Raoul Rigault, he began to speak, saying, "My children - " "Citizen," interrupted Rigault, "you are not here before children, - we are men!" This sally was heartily applauded in the publications of the Commune.
As it would not be possible to sketch the lives and deaths of all these victims of revolutionary violence, it may be well to select the history of the youngest among them, Paul Seigneret. His father was a professor in the high school at Lyons. Paul was born in 1845, and was therefore twenty-six years old when he met death, as a hostage, at the hands of the Commune. His home had been a happy and pious one, and he had a beloved brother Charles, to whom he clung with the most tender devotion. Charles expected to be a priest; Paul was destined for the army, but he earnestly wished that he too might enter the ministry. Lamartine's "Jocelyn" had made a deep impression on him, but his father having objected to his reading it, he laid it aside unfinished; what he had read, however, remained rooted in his memory.
[Footnote 1: Memoir of Paul Seigneret, abridged in the "Monthly Packet."]
When Paul was eighteen, his father gave his sanction to his entering the priesthood; he thought him too delicate, however, to lead the life of a country pastor, and desired him, before he made up his mind as to his vocation, to accept a position offered him as tutor in a family in Brittany.
Present duties being sanctified, not hampered, by higher hopes and aspirations, Paul gained the love and confidence of the family in which he taught, and also of the neighboring peasantry. "He was," says the lady whose children he instructed, "like a good angel sent among us to do good and to give pleasure."
When his time of probation was passed, he decided to enter a convent at Solesmes, and by submitting himself to convent rules, make sure of his vocation. But before making any final choice, we find from his letters that "if France were invaded," he claimed "the right to do his duty as a citizen and a son."
He entered the convent at Solesmes, first as a postulant, then as a novice. "The Holy Gospels," said his superior, "Saint Paul's Epistles, and the Psalms were his favorite studies, - the food on which his piety was chiefly nourished. He also sought Christ in history."
Still, he was not entirely satisfied with life in a convent; he wished to be more actively employed in doing good. He therefore became a student for the regular ministry, - a Seminarist of Saint-Sulpice. But when the Prussian armies were advancing on Paris, he offered himself for hospital service, as did also his brother.
In a moment of passionate enthusiasm, speaking to that dear brother of the dangers awaiting those who had to seek and tend the wounded on the field of battle, he cried: "Do you think God may this year grant me the grace of yielding up my life to Him as a sacrifice? For to fall, an expiatory sacrifice beneath the righteous condemnation that hangs over France, would be to die for Him."