CHAPTER XVIII. THE FORMATION OF THE THIRD REPUBLIC.
The immediate cause which led to the fall of M. Thiers on May 24, 1873, after he had sat for two years and a month in the presidential chair, was a dispute concerning the election of M. Charles de Remusat (son of the lady who has given her memoirs to the world). M. de Remusat was the Government candidate for a deputyship vacant in the Paris representation. He was at the time Thiers' Minister for Foreign Affairs, a personal friend of the president, a distinguished man of letters, and an old Orleanist converted to Republicanism. The opposing candidate was M. Barodet, a Radical of extreme opinions. The Monarchists also brought forward their candidate. He had only twenty-seven thousand votes; but these succeeded in defeating M. de Remusat, who had one hundred and thirty-five thousand, while the Radicals voted solidly for Barodet, giving him one hundred and fifty-five thousand.
The blame of this defeat was thrown on M. Thiers. The Monarchists, who had once called him "that illustrious statesman," now spoke of him as "a fatal old man." They attacked him in the Assembly; the Radicals supported them. M. Thiers was defeated on some measure that he wished should pass, and sent in his resignation. It was accepted by three hundred and sixty-two votes against three hundred and forty-eight. He had fallen; and yet a plebiscite throughout the country would have given a large popular vote in favor of the man "who had found France defeated, her richest provinces occupied, her capital in the hands of savages, and had concluded peace and restored order, and found the stupendous sum required for the liberation and organization of the country, founding the Republic, and bringing order and prosperity back once more." Indeed, the peasants even credited him with their good harvests and the revival of spirit in the army, till they almost felt for him a sentiment of personal loyalty.
Expelled from power when seventy-eight years of age, M. Thiers retired to a little sunny, dusty entresol on the Boulevard Malesherbes, where the noise and glare greatly disturbed him. At Tours, in the lull of events before the surrender of Paris, he had collected books and studied botany. As soon as he was installed on the Boulevard Malesherbes he asked Leverrier, the astronomer, to continue with him the astronomical studies with which at Versailles he had indulged himself in brief moments of leisure, remarking that he had seen a good deal of the perversity of mankind, and that he now wished to refresh himself with the orderly works of God.
Shortly after this he removed to better quarters, where his rooms opened on a garden. In this garden he received his friends on Sunday mornings from seven to nine, attired in a wadded, brown cashmere dressing-gown, a broad-brimmed hat, a black cravat, patent-leather shoes, and black gaiters. As he talked, he held his magnifying-glass in his hand, ready to examine any insect or blade of grass that might come under observation.
One more great service he rendered to his country. Prince Bismarck, alarmed by the state of things in France, showed symptoms of intending to seize Belfort, that fortress in the Vosges which had never surrendered to the Germans, and which France had been permitted to retain. Thiers induced Russia to intervene, and went to Switzerland to thank Prince Gortschakoff personally for his services on the occasion.
Thiers died at Saint-Germains four years after his downfall, at the age of eighty-two. His last earthly lodging was in the Pavilion Henri IV. (now an hotel), where Louis XIV. was born.
By his will he left the State, not only all his collections, which so far as possible he had restored, but the numerous historical materials which he had gathered for his works, as well as his house, after his wife's death, in the Place Saint-Georges. The collections are there as he left them; the historical documents have been removed to the Archives.
To Marseilles, his native city, he left his water-color copies of the chief works of the great masters in Italy.
Thiers was childless. Whatever may have been the personal relations in which he stood to his wife, no woman was ever more truly devoted to the interests of her husband. She seems to have lived but for him.
People in society laughed at her plain dressing and her careful housekeeping; but "her heart dilated with gladness when she felt that the eyes of the world were fixed with admiration on M. Thiers." Her manner to him was that of a careful and idolizing nurse, his to her too often that of a petulant child. She always called him M. Thiers, he always addressed her as Madame Thiers, - indeed, he is almost unknown by his name of Adolphe, nor do men often speak of him simply as Thiers. "Monsieur Thiers" he was and will always be in history, whose tribunal he said he was not afraid to face. Even his cards were, contrary to French custom, always printed "Monsieur Thiers."
Both M. and Madame Thiers were very early risers, and both had an inconvenient habit of falling asleep at inopportune times.
To the last, Madame Thiers took a loving interest in Belfort, because her husband had saved it from the Germans. Its poor were objects of her especial solicitude. Only an hour before her death, hearing that the Maire of Belfort had called, she expressed a wish to see him, and endeavored to address him, pointing to a bust of M. Thiers; but she was unable to make herself understood; her powers of speech had failed her.