The story of the Commune is piteous, disheartening, shameful, and terrible. It seems as if during three months of 1871 "human nature," as Carlyle says of it in his "French Revolution," "had thrown off all formulas, and come out human!" It is the story of those whom the French call "the people," - we "the mob," or "the populace," - let loose upon society, and society in its turn mercilessly avenging itself for its wrongs.

By March 12,1871, the Prussian soldiers had quitted the environs of Paris, and were in full march for their homes. Two of the detached forts, however, remained eighteen months longer in their hands. On March 20 the National Assembly was to begin its session at Versailles. The Provinces were very mistrustful of Paris, and the assembling of the deputies at Versailles was of itself a proof of the want of national confidence in the Parisians.

When it was made known that the German army was to enter Paris, the National Guard of Belleville and Montmartre stole cannon from the fortifications, and placed them in position in their own quarter on the heights, so that they could fire into the city.

On March 18 General Vinoy, who had succeeded Trochu as military commander of Paris, demanded that these cannon should be given back to the city. Many of them had been purchased by subscription during the siege, but they were not the property of the men of Belleville and Montmartre, but of the whole National Guard. A regiment of the line was ordered to take possession of them, and they did so. But immediately after, the soldiers fraternized with the National Guard of Belleville, and surrendered their prize. An officer of chasseurs had been killed, and General Lecomte twice ordered his men to fire on the insurgents.[1] They refused to obey him. "General Lecomte is right," said a gentleman who was standing in a crowd of angry men at a street-corner near the scene of action. He was seized at once, and was soon recognized as General Clement Thomas, formerly commander of the National Guard of Paris. He had done gallant service during the siege; but that consideration had no weight with the insurgents. General Lecomte had been already arrested. "We will put you with him," cried the mob, - "you, who dare to speak in defence of such a scoundrel." Both the unfortunate generals were immediately imprisoned.

[Footnote 1: Leighton, Paris under the Commune.]

At four P. M. they were brought forth by about one hundred insurgent National Guards; Lecomte's hands were tied, those of General Thomas were free. They were marched to an empty house, where a mock trial took place. No rescue was attempted, though soldiers of the line stood by. The two prisoners were then conducted to a walled enclosure at the end of the street. As soon as the party halted, an officer of the National Guard seized General Thomas by the collar and shook him violently, holding a revolver to his head, and crying out, "Confess that you have betrayed the Republic!" The general shrugged his shoulders. The officer retired. The report of twenty muskets rent the air, and General Thomas fell, face downward. They ordered Lecomte to step over his body, and to take his place against the wall. Another report succeeded, and the butchery was over.

By evening the National Guard had taken possession of the Hotel-de-Ville, and the outer Boulevards were crowded by men shouting that they had made a revolution. On this day the insurgents assumed the name of "Federes," or Federals, denoting their project of converting the communistic cities of France into a Federal Republic.

In vain the Government put forth proclamations calling on all good citizens, and on the Old National Guard, to put down insurrection and maintain order and the Republic. The Old Battalions of the National Guard, about twenty thousand strong, had been composed chiefly of tradesmen and gentlemen; these, as soon as the siege was over, had for the most part left the city. Bismarck's proposition to Jules Favre had been to leave the Old National Guard its arms, that it might preserve order, but to take advantage of the occasion to disarm the New Battalions. As we have seen, all were permitted to retain their arms; but the chancellor told Jules Favre he would live to repent having obtained the concession.

The friends of order, in spite of the Government's proclamations, could with difficulty be roused to action. There were two parties in Paris, - the Passives, and the Actives; and the latter party increased in strength from day to day. Indeed, it was hard for peaceful citizens to know under whom they were to range themselves. The Government had left the city. One or two of its members were still in Paris, but the rest had rushed off to Versailles, protected by an army forty thousand strong, under General Vinoy.

A species of Government had, however, formed itself by the morning of March 19 at the Hotel-de-Ville. It called itself the Central Committee of the National Guard, and issued proclamations on white paper (white paper being reserved in Paris for proclamations of the Government). It called upon all citizens in their sections at once to elect a commune. This proclamation was signed by twenty citizens, only one of whom, M. Assy, had ever been heard of in Paris. Some months before, he had headed a strike, killed a policeman, and had been condemned to the galleys for murder. The men who thus constituted themselves a Government, were all members of the International, - that secret association, formed in all countries, for the abolition of property and patriotism, religion and the family, rulers, armies, upper classes, and every species of refinement. Another proclamation decreed that the people of Paris, whether it pleased them or not, must on Wednesday, March 22, elect a commune.

In a former chapter I have tried to explain the nature of a commune. Victor Hugo wrote his opinion of it, when the idea of a commune was first started, after the fall of Louis Philippe in 1848. His words read like a prophecy: -

"It would tear down the tricolor, and set up the red flag of destruction; it would make penny-pieces out of the Column of the Place Vendome; it would hurl down the statue of Napoleon, and set up that of Marat in its place; it would suppress the Academie, the Ecole Polytechnique, and the Legion of Honor. To the grand motto of 'Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity,' it would add the words, 'or death.' It would bring about a general bankruptcy. It would ruin the rich without enriching the poor. It would destroy labor, which gives each of us his bread. It would abolish property, and break up the family. It would march about with the heads of the proscribed on pikes, fill the prisons with the suspected, and empty them by massacre. It would convert France into a country of gloom. It would destroy liberty, stifle the arts, silence thought, and deny God. It would supply work for two things fatal to prosperity, - the press that prints assignats, and the guillotine. In a word, it would do in cold blood what the men of 1793 did in the ravings of fever; and after the great horrors which our fathers saw, we should have the horrible in every form that is low and base."

The party of the Commune has been divided into three classes, - the rascals, the dupes, and the enthusiasts. The latter in the last hours of the Commune (which lasted seventy-three days) put forth in a manifesto their theory of government; to wit, that every city in France should have absolute power to govern itself, should levy its own taxes, make its own laws, provide its own soldiers, see to its own schools, elect its own judges, and make within its corporate limits whatever changes of government it pleased. These Communistic cities were to be federated into a Republic. It was not clear how those Frenchmen were to be governed who did not live in cities; possibly each city was to have territory attached to it, as in Italy in the Middle Ages.

The weather during March of the year 1871 was very fine, and fine weather is always favorable to disturbances and revolutions.

The very few men of note still left in Paris desirous of putting an end to disorder without the shedding of blood, proposed to go out to Versailles and negotiate with M. Thiers, the provisional president, and the members of his Government. They were the twelve deputies of the Department of the Seine, in which Paris is situated, headed by Louis Blanc, and the maires, with their assistants, from the twenty arrondissements. They proposed to urge on the Government of Versailles the policy of giving the Parisians the right to elect what in England would be called a Lord Mayor, and likewise a city council; also to give the National Guard the right to elect its officers.

This deputation went out to Versailles on the 20th of March, - two days before the proposed election for members of a commune. On the 21st, while all Paris was awaiting anxiously the outcome of the mission, there was a great "order" demonstration in the streets, and hopes of peace and concord were exchanged on all sides. The next day, the order demonstration, which had seemed so popular, was repeated, when a massacre took place on the Place Vendome and the Rue de la Paix. Nurses, children, and other quiet spectators were killed, as also old gentlemen and reporters for the newspapers. One of the victims was a partner in the great banking house of Hottinguer, well known to American travellers.

The most popular man at that moment in Paris seemed to be Admiral Seisset, who had commanded the brigade of sailors which did good service in the siege. He went out to Versailles to unite his efforts to those of the maires and the deputies in favor of giving Paris municipal rights; but M. Thiers and his ministers were firm in their refusal.

When this was known in Paris, great was the fury and indignation of the people. In vain had Louis Blanc entreated the Assembly at Versailles to approve conciliatory measures; and when that body utterly refused to make terms with a Parisian mob, M. Clemenceau said, as he quitted their chamber: "May the responsibility for what may happen, rest upon your heads."

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.

A personage who rose to great importance at this period was General Cluseret. He called himself an American, but he had had many aliases, and it is not known in what country he was born. At one time he had been a captain in the Chasseurs d'Afrique, but was convicted of dishonesty in the purchase of horses, and dismissed from the army. Then he came to the United States, and entered the service of the Union, by which he became a naturalized citizen. He got into trouble, however, over a flock of sheep which mysteriously disappeared while he had charge of them. Next he enlisted in the Papal Zouaves. After the Commune he escaped from Paris, and the Fenians chose him for their general. In their service he came very near capturing Chester Castle. The Fenians, however, soon accused him of being a traitor. Again he escaped, fearing a secret dagger, and was thought to have found refuge in a religious community. Subsequently he served the Turks; and lastly, during the presidency of M. Grevy, at a time of great dissatisfaction in France, he was elected a deputy from one of the Southern cities.

By April 7, Cluseret had, as some one expresses it, "swallowed up the Commune." He became for three weeks absolute dictator; after which time he found himself in prison at Mazas, occupying the very cell to which he had sent Bergeret.

Cluseret was a soldier of experience; but Bergeret had been a bookseller's assistant, and his highest military rank had been that of a sergeant in the National Guard. He could not ride on horseback, and he drove out from Paris to the fight in which Flourens was killed.

The official title of Cluseret and others, who were heads of the War Office during the Commune, was War Delegate, the committee refusing to recognize the usual title of Minister of War.

Probably the best general the Commune had was a Pole named Dombrowski, an adventurer who came into France with Garibaldi. He was not only a good strategist, but a dare-devil for intrepidity. Some said he had fought for Polish liberty, others, that he had fought against it; at any rate, he was an advanced Anarchist, though in military matters he was a strict disciplinarian, and kept his men of all nations in better order than any other commander.

When, after the first attack of the Communist forces on those of the Versailles Government, the guns of Fort Valerien opened on Paris, the second bombardment began. It was far more destructive than that of the Prussians, the guns from the forts being so much nearer to the centre of the city. The shells of the Versaillais fell on friend and foe alike, on women and on children, on homes, on churches, and on public buildings. Three shots struck the Arch of Triumph, which the Prussians had spared.

Such scenes as the following one, related by an American, might be seen daily: -

"Two National Guards passed me, bearing a litter between them. 'Oh, you can look if you like,' cried one; so I drew back the checked curtain. On a mattress was stretched a woman decently dressed, with a child of two or three years lying on her breast. They both looked very pale. One of the woman's arms was hanging down; her hand had been carried away. 'Where are they wounded?' I asked. 'Wounded! they are dead,' was the reply. 'They are the wife and child of the velocipede-maker in the Avenue de Wagram. If you will go and break the news to him, you will do us a kindness.'"

The velocipede-maker may have been - probably was - a good, peaceable citizen, with no sympathy for disorder or anarchy; but doubtless from the moment that news was broken to him, he became a furious Communist.

By order of General Cluseret every man in Paris was to be forced to bear arms for the Commune. His neighbors were expected to see that he did so, and to arrest him at once if he seemed anxious to decline. "Thus, every man walking along the street was liable to have the first Federal who passed him, seize him by the collar and say: 'Come along, and be killed on behalf of my municipal independence.'"

It would be hardly possible to follow the details of the fighting, the arrests, the bombardment, or even the changes that took place among those high in office in the Council of the Commune during the seventy-three days that its power lasted; the state of things in Paris will be best exhibited by detached sketches of what individuals saw and experienced during those dreadful days.

Here is the narrative of an English lady who was compelled to visit Paris on Easter Sunday, April 9, while it was under the administration of Cluseret.[1]

[Footnote 1: A Catholic lady in "Red" Paris. London Spectator, April, 1871 (Living Age, May 13, 1871).]

The streets she found for the most part silent and empty. There were a few omnibuses, filled with National Guards and men en blouse, and heavy ammunition-wagons under the disorderly escort of men in motley uniforms, with guns and bayonets. Here and there were groups of "patriots" seated on the curbstones, playing pitch-farthing, known in France by the name of "bouchon." Their guns were resting quietly against the wall behind them, with, in many instances, a loaf of bread stuck on the bayonet. The sky was gray, the wind piercingly cold. The swarming life of Paris was hushed. There was no movement, and scarcely any sound. The shop-windows were shut, many were boarded up; from a few hung shabby red flags, but the very buildings looked dead. She says, -

"I felt bewildered. I could see no traces of the siege, and all my previous ideas of a revolution were dispersed. I passed several churches, not then closed, and being a Catholic, I entered the Madeleine. The precious articles on the altar had been removed by the priests, but except the words 'Liberte,' 'Egalite,' 'Fraternite,' deeply cut in the stone over the great door, the church had not, so far, been desecrated. I went also to mass at Notre Dame des Victoires; but before telling my cabman to drive me there, I hesitated, believing it to be in a bad part of the city. 'There are no bad parts,' he said, 'except towards the Arch of Triumph and Neuilly. The rest of Paris is as quiet as a bird's nest.' The church was very full of men as well as women. It was a solemn, devout crowd; every woman wore a plain black dress, every face was anxious, grave, and grieved, but none looked frightened. As the aged priest who officiated read the first words of the Gospel for the day, 'Be not afraid, ye seek Jesus who was crucified,' the bombardment recommenced with a fearful roar, shaking the heavy leathern curtain over the church door, and rattling the glass in the great painted windows. I started, but got used to it after a while, and paid no more attention to it than did others. While I was in church, the citizen patriot who was my cab-driver, had brought me three newspapers, one of them the journal edited by M. Rochefort, which said that it was earnestly to be hoped that the 'old assassin' M. Thiers would soon be disposed of; that all men of heart were earnestly demanding more blood, and that blood must be given them. I also learned that the Commune would erect a statue to Robespierre out of the statues of kings, which were to be melted down for that purpose. In the Rue Saint-Honore I met a lady whom I knew, returning from the flower-market with flowers in her hands. 'Then no one,' I said, pointing to these blossoms, 'need be afraid in Paris?' 'No woman,' she answered, 'except of shells; but the men are all afraid, and in danger. They are suspected of wanting to get away, but they will be made to stay and to fight for the Commune.'

"Indeed, profound gravity seemed expressed on all men's faces, and as a body, the patriots looked to me cold, tired, bored, and hungry, to say nothing of dirty, which they looked, to a man. I had expressed a wish to see a barricade, so we turned into a small street apparently closed in by a neatly built wall with holes in it, through which I saw the mouths of cannon. About this wall men were swarming both in and out of uniform. They were all armed, and two or three were members of the Commune, with red sashes and pistols stuck in them, after the fashion of the theatre. As I looked out of my cab window, longing to see more, a cheerful young woman, with a pretty, wan infant in her arms, encouraged me to alight, and a young man to whom she was talking, a clean, trim, fair young fellow, with a military look, stepped forward and saluted me. He seemed pleased at my admiration of the barricade, and having handed a tin can to the young woman, invited me to come inside. Thence I beheld the Place Vendome. I had seen it last on Aug. 15, 1868, on the emperor's fete-day, filled with the glittering Imperial troops. I saw it again, a wide, empty waste, bounded by four symmetrical barricades, dotted with slouching figures whose clothes and arms seemed to encumber them.... I thanked my friend for his politeness, and returned to my carriage. The young woman smiled at me, as much as to say: 'Is he not a fine fellow?' I thought he was; and there may be other fine fellows as much out of place in the ruffianly mass with which they are associated.

"In the Rue de Rivoli I saw a regiment marching out to engage the enemy. Among them were some villanous-looking faces. They passed with little tramp and a good deal of shuffle, - shabby, wretched, silent. I did not hear a laugh or an oath; I did not see a violent gesture, and hardly a smile, that day. The roistering, roaring, terrible 'Reds,' as I saw them, were weary, dull men, doing ill-directed work with plodding indifference.

"I visited a lady of world-wide reputation, who gave me a history of the past months in Paris so brilliantly and epigrammatically that I was infinitely amused, and carried away the drollest impressions of L'Empire Cluseret; but her manner changed when I asked her what I should say to her friends in England. 'Tell them,' she said, 'to fear everything, and to hope very little. We are a degraded people; we deserve what we have got.'

"In the street I bought some daffodils from a woman who was tying them up in bunches. As she put them into my hand, her face seemed full of horror. Seeing probably an answering sympathy in my face, she whispered: 'It is said that they have shot the archbishop.' I did not believe it, and I was right. He was arrested, but his doom was delayed for six weeks. That night the churches were all closed. There were no evening services that Easter day.

"I may add that I saw but one bonnet rouge, which I had supposed would be the revolutionary headdress. It was worn by an ill-looking ruffian, who sat with his back to the Quai, his legs straddled across the foot-walk, his drunken head fallen forward on his naked, hairy breast, a broken pipe between his knees, his doubled fists upon the stones at either side of him."

In the story of Louis Napoleon's abortive attempt at Boulogne to incite France against Louis Philippe's Government, we were much indebted to the narrative of Count Joseph Orsi, one of the Italians who from his earliest days had attended on his fortunes. The same gentleman has given us an account of his own experiences during the days of the Commune: -

"One could not help being struck by the contrasts presented at that time in Paris itself: destruction and death raging in some quarters, cannon levelling its beautiful environs, while at the same moment one could see its fashionable Boulevards crowded with well-dressed people loitering and smiling as if nothing were going on. The cafes, indeed, were ordered to close their doors at midnight, but behind closed shutters went on gambling, drinking, and debauchery. After spending a riotous night, fast men and women considered it a joke to drive out to the Arch of Triumph and see how the fight was going on."

The troops at Versailles, reinforced by the prisoners of war who had been returned from Prussia, began, by the 9th of April, to make active assaults on such forts as were held by the Federals. Confusion and despair began to reign in the Council of the Commune. Unsuccessful in open warfare, the managing committee tried to check the advance of the Versaillais by deeds of violence and retaliation. They arrested numerous hostages, and the same night the palace of the archbishop was pillaged. The prefect of police, Raoul Rigault, issued a decree that every one suspected of being a reactionnaire (that is, a partisan of the National Assembly) should be at once arrested. The delivery of letters was suspended, gas was cut off, and with the exception of a few places where lamp-posts were supplied with petroleum, Paris was in darkness.

The Commune also issued a decree that while all men under sixty must enter its army, women, children, and aged men could obtain passes to leave the city at the prefecture of police for two francs a head. The prefecture was besieged by persons striving to get these passes, many of whom camped out for forty-eight hours while waiting their turn.

In the midst of this confused pressure on the prefect of police, Count Orsi took the resolution of visiting him. As a known adherent of the former dynasty and a personal friend of the late emperor, he did not feel himself safe. He therefore took the bull by the horns, and went to call on the terrible Raoul Rigault in his stronghold. He did not see him, however; but after struggling for three hours in the crowd of poor creatures who were waiting to pay their two francs and receive a passport, he was admitted to the presence of his secretary, Ferre. Ferre was writing as his visitor was shown in, and, waving his pen, made him stand where he could see him. When he learned his name, he said -

"Your opinions are well known to us. We also know that you have taken no active part against us. We fight for what we believe to be just and fair. We do not kill for the pleasure of killing, but we must attain our end, and we shall, at any cost. I recommend you to keep quiet. As you are an Italian, you shall not be molested. However, I must tell you that you have taken a very bold step in calling on me in this place. Your visit might have taken a different turn. You may go. Your frank declaration has saved you."

On Easter Sunday, as the English lady to whom allusion has been made, was leaving Paris, the population in the neighborhood of the Place de Greve was amusing itself by a public burning of the guillotine. It was brought forth and placed beneath a statue of Voltaire, where it was consumed amid wild shouts of enthusiasm.

The Freemasons and trades unions sent deputies to Versailles to endeavor to negotiate between the contending parties. M. Thiers promised amnesty to all Communists who should lay down their arms, except to those concerned in the deaths of Generals Lecomte and Thomas, and he was also willing to give pay to National Guards till trade and order should be restored; but no persuasions would induce him to confer on Paris municipal rights that were not given to other cities. On the 12th of May the Commune issued the following decree: -

"Whereas, the imperial column in the Place Vendome is a monument of barbarism, a symbol of brute force and of false glory, an encouragement to the military spirit, a denial of international rights, a permanent insult offered to the conquered by the conquerors, a perpetual conspiracy against one of the great principles of the French Republic, - namely, Fraternity, - the Commune decrees thus: The column of the Place Vendome shall be destroyed."

Four days later, this decree was carried into effect. Its execution was intrusted to the painter Courbet, who was one of the members of the Commune. He was a man who, up to the age of fifty, had taken no part in politics, but had been wholly devoted to art. His most celebrated pictures are the "Combat des Cerfs" and the "Dame au Perroquet." He was a delightful companion, beloved by artists, and a personal friend of Cluseret, who had caused his name to be put upon the list of the members of the Commune.

The column of the Place Vendome was one hundred and thirty-five feet high. It was on the model of Trajan's column at Rome, but one twelfth larger. It was erected by Napoleon I. to celebrate the victories of the Grand Army in the campaign of 1805. He had caused it to be cast from cannon taken from the enemy. When erected, it was surmounted by a statue of Napoleon in his imperial robes; this, at the Restoration, gave place to a white flag. Under Louis Philippe, Napoleon was replaced, but in his cocked hat and his redingote, but Louis Napoleon restored the imperial statue.

"On May 16," says Count Orsi, "a crowd collected at the barricades which separated the Place Vendome from the Rue de la Paix and the Rue Castiglione. To the Place Vendome itself only a few persons had been admitted by tickets. At the four corners of the square were placed military bands. Ropes were fastened to the upper part of the column, and worked by capstans. The monument fell with a tremendous crash, causing everything for a few moments to disappear in a blinding cloud of dust. To complete the disgrace of this savage act, the Commune advertised for tenders for the purchase of the column, which was to be sold in four separate lots. This injudicious and anti-national measure inspired the regular army at Versailles with a spirit of revenge, which led them on entering Paris to lose all self-possession, so that they dealt with the insurrection brutally and without discrimination."

It would be curious to trace the history of the various members of the Council of the Commune. A few have been already alluded to; but the majority came forth out of obscurity, and their fate is as obscure. Eight were professional journalists. Among these were Rochefort, Arnould, and Vermorel. Arnould was probably the most moderate man in the Commune, and Vermorel was one of the very few who, when the Commune was at its last gasp, neither deserted nor disgraced it. He sprang on a barricade, crying: "I am here, not to fight, but to die!" and was shot down. Four were military men, of whom one was General Eudes, a draper's assistant, and one had been a private in the army of Africa. Five were genuine working-men, three of whom were fierce, ignorant cobblers from Belleville; the other two were Assy, a machinist, and Thiez, a silver-chaser, - one of the few honest men in the Council. Three were not Frenchmen, although generals; namely, Dombrowski, La Cecilia, and Dacosta, besides Cluseret, who claimed American citizenship. Rochefort was the son of a marquis who had been forced to write for bread. Deleschuze was an ex-convict. Blanqui had spent two thirds of his life in prison, having been engaged from his youth up in conspiracy. He was also at one period a Government spy. Raoul Rigault also had been a spy and an informer from his boyhood. Megy and Assy were under sentence for murder. Jourde was a medical student, one of the best men in the Commune, and faithful to his trust as its finance minister. Flourens, the scientist, a genuine enthusiast, we have seen was killed in the first skirmish with the Versaillais. Felix Pyat was an arch conspirator, but a very spirited and agreeable writer. He was elected in 1888 a deputy under the Government of the Third Republic. Lullier had been a naval officer, but was dismissed the service for insubordination.

To such men (the best of them wholly without experience in the art of government) were confided the destinies of Paris, and, as they hoped, of France; but their number dwindled from time to time, till hardly more than fifty were left around the Council Board, when about two weeks before the downfall of the Commune twenty-two of this remainder resigned, - some because they could not but foresee the coming crash, others because they would no longer take part in the violence and tyranny of their colleagues. In seven weeks the Commune had four successive heads of the War Department. General Eudes was the first: his rule lasted four days. Then came Cluseret; the Empire Cluseret lasted three weeks. Then Cluseret was imprisoned, and Rossel was in office for nine days, when he resigned. On May 9 Deleschuze, the ex-convict, became head of military affairs. He was killed two weeks later, when the Commune fell. Cluseret was deposed April 30, - some said for ill-success, some because he was a traitor and had communications with the enemy, but probably because he made himself unpopular by an order requiring his officers to put no more embroidery and gold lace on their uniforms than their rank entitled them to.

Rossel, who succeeded Cluseret, was a real soldier, who tried in vain to organize the defence and to put experienced military men in command as subordinate generals. To do this he had to choose three out of five from men who were not Frenchmen. Dombrowski and Wroblewski were Poles, and General La Cecilia was an Italian. On May 9, after nine days of official life, he resigned, in the following extraordinary letter: -


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."[1]

[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,[2] "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.]

On the 16th of May, the day of the destruction of the column in the Place Vendome, a great patriotic concert was given in the palace of the Tuileries, which was thronged; but "by that date, discord and despair were in the Council of the Commune, and its most respectable members had sent in their resignation. Versailles everywhere was gaining ground; the Fort of Vauves was taken, that of Mont Rouge had been dismantled, and breaches were opened in the city walls. The leaders of the insurrection lost their senses, and gave way to every species of madness and folly. The army of Versailles soon entered the city from different points. The fight was desperate, the carnage frightful. Dombrowski, the only general of ability, was killed early in the struggle. Barricades were in almost every street. Prisoners on both sides were shot without mercy. The Communists set fire to the Tuileries, the Hotel-de-Ville, the Ministry of Finance, the Palace of the Legion of Honor.

The rest of the story is all blood and horror. The most pathetic part of it is the murder of the hostages, which took place on the morning of May 24, and which cannot be told in this chapter. The desperate leaders of the Commune had determined that if they must perish, Paris itself should be their funeral pyre.

It was General Eudes who organized the band of incendiaries called "petroleuses" and gave out the petroleum. It was Felix Pyat, it was said, who laid a train of gunpowder to blow up the Invalides, while another member of the Commune served out explosives.

On the night of May 24, the Hotel-de-Ville was in flames. The smoke, at times a deep red, enveloped everything; the air was laden with the nauseous odors of petroleum. The Tuileries, the Palace of the Legion of Honor, the Ministry of War, and the Treasury were flaming like the craters of a great volcano.

We have heard much of petroleuses. They appear to have worked among private houses in the more open parts of the city. Here is a picture of one seen by an Englishman: -

"She walked with a rapid step under the shadow of a wall. She was poorly dressed, her age was between forty and fifty; her head was bound with a red-checked handkerchief, from which fell meshes of coarse, uncombed hair. Her face was red, her eyes blurred, and she moved with her eyes bent down to the ground. Her right hand was in her pocket; in the other she held one of the high, narrow tin cans in which milk is carried in Paris, but which now contained petroleum. The street seemed deserted. She stopped and consulted a dirty bit of paper which she held in her hand, paused a moment before the grated entrance to a cellar, and then went on her way steadily, without haste. An hour after, that house was burning to the ground. Sometimes these wretched women led little children by the hand, who were carrying bottles of petroleum. There was a veritable army of these incendiaries, composed mainly of the dregs of society. This army had its chiefs, and each detachment was charged with firing a quarter."

The orders for the conflagration of public edifices bore the stamp of the Commune and that of the Central Committee of the National Guard; also the seal of the war delegate. For private houses less ceremony was used. Small tickets of the size of postage-stamps were pasted on the walls of the doomed houses, with the letters, B. P. B. (Bon Pour Bruler). Some of these tickets were square, others oval, with a Bacchante's head upon them. A petroleuse was to receive ten francs for every house which she set on fire.

All the sewers beneath Paris had been strewn with torpedoes, bombs, and inflammable materials, connected with electric wires. "The reactionary quarters shall be blown up," was the announced intention of the Commune. Mercifully, these arrangements had not been completed when the Versailles troops obtained the mastery. Almost the first thing done was to send sappers and miners underground to cut the wires that connected electric currents with inflammable material in all parts of the city. The catacombs that underlie the eastern part of Paris were included in the incendiary arrangement.

When Paris was at last in safety, and the Commune subdued, would that it had been only the guilty on whom the great and awful vengeance fell!