Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXXII, 3

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXXII, chapter 3
The July Revolution: military action on the 28th of July



On the 28th the crowds re-grouped in greater numbers; with the cry of ‘Long live, the Charter!’ which could still be heard, were already mingled cries of ‘Long live, Liberty! Down with the Bourbons!’ They also shouted: ‘Long Live, the Emperor! Long live, the Black Prince!’ that mysterious shadowy Prince who appears in the popular imagination in all revolutions. Memories and previous passions were forgotten; they dragged down and burnt the arms of France; they hung them from the cords of broken street-lamps; they tore the fleur-de-lis badges from the coachmen’s and postmen’s uniforms; the notaries took down their escutcheons, the bailiffs removed their badges, the carriers their official signs, the Royal suppliers their warrants. Those who had previously covered their oil-painted Napoleonic eagles with Bourbon lilies in distemper only needed a sponge to wipe out their loyalty; nowadays empires and gratitude are effaced with a little water.

The Duke of Ragusa wrote to the King saying that it was essential to bring about calm, and that by the next day, the 29th, it would be too late. A messenger from the Prefect of Police came to ask the Marshal if it was true that Paris had been placed under martial law: the Marshal, who knew nothing about it, looked surprised; he hurried to the President of the Council’s residence; there he found the Ministers gathered, and Monsieur de Polignac handed him the decree. Because the man who had trampled the world underfoot had placed cities and whole provinces under martial law, Charles X thought he could imitate him. The Ministers told the Marshal that they were about to install themselves at the Guard Headquarters.

No orders having arrived from Saint-Cloud, at nine in the morning on the 28th, when there was no longer time to retain anything, but there was time to recapture everything, the Marshal ordered the troops, who had already shown themselves the day before, from barracks. No precaution had been taken to lay in provisions at the Headquarters in the Carrousel. The storehouse, which they had forgotten to guard adequately, was taken. The Duke of Ragusa, a man of intellect and merit, a brave soldier, and a wise but unlucky general, proved for the thousandth time that military ability is insufficient to handle civil disturbance; any police officer would have had a better idea than the Marshal as to what should be done. Perhaps his thoughts were paralysed by memories; he remained as if stifled by the weight of fatality associated with his name.

The Marshal, who had only a handful of men with him, devised a plan which would have needed thirty thousand soldiers for its execution. Columns were deployed over vast distances, while one was ordered to occupy the Hôtel de Ville. The troops, having completed their operations to restore order everywhere, were to converge on the municipal building. The Carrousel became the headquarters: orders emerged from it, and information ended up there. A Swiss battalion, pivoting on the Marché des Innocents, was charged with opening communications between the forces of the centre and those which covered the circumference. The soldiers from the Popincourt Barracks prepared to descend by various routes on positions from which they could be deployed. General Latour-Mauborg was lodged in the Invalides. When he saw things were going badly, he proposed to house the regiments in Louis XIV’s edifice; he claimed he could feed them, and defy the Parisians to take it. Not for nothing had he left a limb on the Imperial field of battle, and the Borodino redoubts knew how he kept his word. But what did the courage and experience of a crippled veteran count for? They ignored his advice.

Under the command of the Comte de Saint-Chamans, the first Guards column left the Madeleine to follow the boulevards as far as the Bastille. After a few paces a squad commanded by Monsieur Sala was attacked; the Royalist officer repelled the attack in a lively manner. As they advanced, the communication posts established en route, being too weakly defended and too far apart, were isolated by the mob, and separated from one another by fallen trees and barricades. There was a bloody business at the Saint-Denis gate and at that of Saint-Martin. Monsieur de Saint-Chamans, traversing the theatre of Fieschi’s future exploits, encountered numerous groups of men and women in the Place de la Bastille. He invited them to disperse, giving them money; but they did not cease pillaging the neighbouring houses. He was forced to relinquish the attempt to reach the Hôtel de Ville by the Rue Saint-Antoine, and having crossed the Pont d’Austerlitz he regained the Carrousel from the southern boulevards. Turenne in front of the still-extant Bastille had been more fortunate on behalf of the mother of the young Louis XIV.

The column entrusted with occupying the Hôtel-de-Ville followed the Quais des Tuileries, du Louvre, and de l’École, crossed the Pont Neuf to its mid-point, took the Quai de l’Horlogue, and the Flower Market, and reached the Place de Grève by the Pont Notre-Dame. Two platoons of Guards created a diversion by making for the new suspension bridge. A battalion of the 15th Light Infantry supported the Guards, and was to leave two platoons at the Flower Market.

The passage of the Seine via the Pont Notre-Dame was disputed. The mob, with drums beating, faced the Guards bravely. The officer in command of the Royal Artillery pointed out to the mass of people that they were risking their lives pointlessly, and that without cannon they would be shot down without any chance of their succeeding. The crowd stood firm; the guns were fired. The soldiers streamed onto the embankments and into the Place de Grève, where two more Guards platoons joined them via the Pont d’Arcole. They had been obliged to force their way through crowds of students from the Faubourg Saint-Jacques. The Hôtel de Ville was duly occupied.

A barricade was raised at the entrance to the Rue du Mouton; a brigade of Swiss Guards carried this barricade; the people, rushing from adjacent streets, retook the position with loud cries. The barricade ultimately remained in the hands of the Guards.

In all those poor working-class districts the people fought spontaneously without ulterior motives: French recklessness, mocking, intrepid and joyful, had filled everyone’s head; for our nation, glory possesses the effervescence of Champagne. Women at the windows urged on men in the streets; notes promised a Marshal’s baton to the first Colonel who would go over to the people; crowds marched along to the sound of the violin. There were scenes of tragedy and comedy, circus-antics and triumphal displays: oaths and shouts of laughter could be heard amid musket-shots, clouds of smoke, and the dull roar of the crowd. Carriers with improvised permits signed by unknown leaders, bare-footed, and with forage-caps on their heads, drove convoys of wounded through the combatants, who parted for them.

In the wealthy districts a totally different spirit prevailed. The National Guard, having resumed the uniforms that had previously been taken from them, assembled in vast numbers at the Mairie of the 1st Arrondissement to maintain order. In encounters the Guards suffered more than the mob, being exposed to fire from enemies concealed in the houses. Others can name the drawing-room heroes who recognising various Guards officers amused themselves by shooting them down, from the safety of a shutter or a chimney-stack. In the street, animosity between workman and soldier barely went beyond striking a blow: when wounded, they helped each other. The people rescued several of their victims. Two officers, Monsieur de Goyon and Monsieur Rivaux, after a heroic defence, owed their lives to the generosity of their conquerors. A Guards captain, Kaumann, was struck on the head by an iron bar: stunned and with blood-filled eyes, he beat up with his sword the bayonets of his soldiers who were taking aim at the workman responsible.

The Guard was full of Bonaparte’s grenadiers. Several officers lost their lives, among them Lieutenant Noirot, a man of exceptional courage, who had received the cross of the Legion of Honour from Prince Eugène in 1813 for a feat of arms performed in one of the redoubts at Caldiera. Colonel de Pleinneselve, mortally wounded at the Porte Saint-Martin, had fought in the Empire’s wars in Holland and Spain, with the Grand Army and in the Imperial Guard. At the Battle of Leipzig, he captured the Austrian General von Merveldt. Carried to the hospital of Gros-Caillou by his soldiers, he refused to have his wounds dressed until last. Dr. Larrey, whose father he had known on other battlefields, amputated his leg at the thigh; it was too late to save him. Those noble adversaries who had seen so many cannonballs pass over their heads were fortunate if they avoided a bullet from one of those freed convicts whom justice has found once more, following the day of victory, in the ranks of the victors! Those galley-slaves could not defile the national Republican triumph; they have merely tarnished Louis-Philippe’s royalty. Thus there perished, obscurely, in the streets of Paris, the last of those famous soldiers who had escaped the cannon-fire at Borodino, Lützen and Leipzig: under Charles X, we massacred those brave men we had so admired under Napoleon. One victim more was missing: that man had disappeared at St Helena.

At night-fall, a junior officer in disguise brought an order for the troops at the Hôtel de Ville to fall back on the Tuileries. The retreat was made hazardous by the wounded they would not abandon, and the artillery which had to be manoeuvred with difficulty through the barricades. However it was completed without incident. When the troops returned from the various districts of Paris they expected to find the King and Dauphin standing with them: seeking in vain for a sight of the white banner on the Pavillon d’Horlogue, they expressed themselves in the vigorous language of the military camps.

It is not true, as is said, that the Hôtel de Ville had been taken from the people by the Guard, and was taken back by the people from the Guard. When the Guard arrived, they experienced no resistance, since there was no one there, even the Prefect had left. These boasts lessen and cast doubt on the real dangers. The Guard was badly deployed in winding streets; the advance, first by its stance of neutrality, and then through defection, completed the evil that the deployment, fine in theory but hardly executable in practice, had begun. The 50th of the Line arrived, during the engagement, at the Hôtel de Ville; dropping with fatigue, they hastened to withdraw within the defences of the Hotel, and gave their weary comrades their unused and useless cartridges.

The Swiss battalion still at the Marché des Innocents was extricated by a second Swiss battalion; they both ended up at the Quai de l’École, and stationed themselves at the Louvre.

Now the barricades are sanctuaries that belong to Parisian invention: they have appeared during all our disturbances, from the days of Charles V to our own.

‘The people seeing the forces deployed through the streets,’ says L’Estoile, ‘began to rouse themselves, and built barricades in the manner everyone knows of: several Swiss, who went to earth in a ditch in the square in front of Notre Dame, were killed; the Duc de Guise being on his way through the streets, whoever was there shouted: “Long live Guise!” and he, doffing his large hat, said: “My friends, enough; gentlemen, you go too far; you must shout Long live the King!”’

Why have these recent barricades of ours, whose effect has been so powerful, been so little spoken of, while the barricades of 1588, which delivered almost nothing, are so interesting to read about? Therein lies the difference in century and personalities: the sixteen century had all before it; the nineteenth has left all behind: Monsieur de Puyraveau is not Le Balafré.