CHAPTER XVIII. THE FORMATION OF THE THIRD REPUBLIC.
The fall of the Commune took place in the last week of May, 1871. We must go back to the surrender of Paris, in the last week of January of the same year, and take up the history of France from the election of the National Assembly called together at Bordeaux to conclude terms of peace with the Prussians, to the election of the first president of the Third Republic, during which time France was under the dictatorship of M. Thiers.
Adolphe Thiers was born in Marseilles, April 16, 1797. He was a poor little baby, whose father, an ex-Jacobin, had fled from France to escape the counter-revolution. The doctor who superintended his entrance into the world recorded that he was a healthy, active child, with remarkably short legs. These legs remained short all his life, but his body grew to be that of a tall, powerful man. His appearance was by no means aristocratic or dignified if seen from a distance, but his defects of person were redeemed by the wondrous sparkle in his eyes. The family of his mother, on the maternal side, was named Lhommaca, and was of Greek origin. It came from the Levant, and its members spoke Greek among themselves. Madame Thiers' father was named Arnic, and his descent was also Levantine. Mademoiselle Arnic made a love-match in espousing Thiers, a widower, who after the 9th Thermidor had taken refuge under her father's roof. A writer who obtained materials for a sketch of Thiers from the Thiers himself, says, -
"She pitied him, she was dazzled by his brilliant parts, charmed by his plausible manners, and regardless of his poverty and his incumbrance of many children, she insisted on marrying him. Her family was indignant, and cast her off; nor did she long find comfort in her husband. She was a Royalist, and remained so to the end of her days; he was a Jacobin. Moreover, she soon found that his tastes led him to drink and dissipation."
This man, the father of Thiers, was small of stature, mercurial in temperament, of universal aptitudes, much wit, and a perennial buoyancy of disposition. His weakness, like his son's, was a passion for omniscience. Some one said of him: "He talks encyclopedia, and if anybody asked him, would be at no loss to tell you what was passing in the moon." He had been educated for the Bar, and belonged to a family of the haute bourgeoisie of Provence; but everything was changed by the revolutionary see-saw, and shortly before his son was born, he had been a stevedore in the docks of Marseilles. His father (the statesman's grandfather) had been a cloth merchant and a man of erudition. He wrote a History of Provence, and died at the age of ninety-five. The Thiers who preceded him lived to be ninety-seven, and was a noted gastronome, whose house at Marseilles in the early part of the eighteenth century was known far and wide for hospitality and good cheer. He was ruined by speculative ventures in the American colonies.
Thiers' grandfather, the cloth merchant, was a Royalist, who brought down upon himself the wrath of the Jacobins by inciting the more moderate party in Marseilles to seize the commissioners sent to them by the Convention, and imprison them in the Chateau d'If. His son (Thiers' father), being himself a Jacobin, helped to release the prisoners, and accepted an office under them in Marseilles. This was the reason why he had to conceal himself during the reaction that followed the fall of Robespierre. But all his life he bobbed like a cork to the surface of events, or with equal facility sank beneath them. He seems to have been "everything by turns, and nothing long." Among other employments he became an impressario, and went with an opera troupe to Italy. There for a time he kept a gaming table, and finally turned up at Joseph Bonaparte's court at Naples. He became popular with King Joseph, and followed him to Madrid. He was a French Micawber, without the domestic affections of his English counterpart, but with far more brilliant chances. His wife was left to struggle at Marseilles with her own boy to support, and with a host of step-children. What she would have done but for the kindness of her mother, Madame Arnic, it is hard to tell.
Meantime Adolphe was adopted and educated by Madame Arnic. She had provided him from his birth with influential patrons in the persons of two well-to-do godfathers. The boy was brought up in one of those beautiful bastides, or sea-and-country villas, which adorn the shores of Provence. There he ran wild with the little peasant boys, and subsequently in Marseilles with the gamins of the city.