The Works of Heinrich Heine/Vol. 7/Letter 1

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
 


FRENCH AFFAIRS.


I.

Paris, December 28, 1831.

The hereditary peers have delivered their last speeches, and were shrewd enough to declare themselves dead, so as not to be killed by the people. This reason for action was specially impressed on their hearts by Casimir Perier. Therefore there was, so far as they were concerned, no pretence whatever for émeutes. However, the situation of the lower classes in Paris is so distressing, that the least cause of irritation from without might cause a more dangerous uprising than ever before. And yet I do not think that we are actually so near such outbursts as many apprehend. It is not that I regard the Government as being altogether too powerful, or the Opposition as too weak. On the contrary, the Government shows its weakness on every occasion, as specially happened in the disturbances at Lyons; while as regards its enemies, they are sufficiently exasperated, and may, moreover, find among the thousands who are dying of misery the most desperately daring support—but just now it is cold foggy weather.

"Ils ne viendront pas ce soir, car il pleut." "They will not come to-night because it rains," said Pethion, after he had calmly opened and shut the window, while his friends the Girondists expected an attack from the populace, who had been excited by the party of La Montagnethe Mountain. This story is told in histories of the Revolution to indicate Pethion's coolness. But since I have studied with my own eyes the nature of Parisian revolts, I see that his words were much misunderstood. For good wild riots and rebellions, there must be good weather, agreeable sunshine, a pleasant warm day, and for this reason they succeed best in June, July, and August. And there must be no rain, for Parisians fear it more than anything, since it drives away the hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children who, mostly well dressed and laughing, flock to the fields of battle (Wahlstätten), and increase by their number the courage of the agitators. Nor should the air be foggy, because then the people cannot read the placards which the Government posts at the street corners, for the perusal of these attracts crowds to places where they can press together and riot to the greatest advantage. Monsieur Guizot, an almost German pedant, when he was Conrector of France, wished to parade in such placards all his philosophic historical learning, and it is said that because the mob could not so easily master such reading, and as the crowds in consequence increased in number, the émeutes became so great that the poor doctrinaire fell at last a sacrifice to his own erudition, and thereby lost his office.[1] But the principal cause is probably that in cold weather people cannot read newspapers in the Palais Royal, yet it is here that the most zealous politicians assemble under the pleasant trees, and, debating in raging groups, spread their inspiration far and wide.

Thus it hath been shown in these our times how great was the injustice done to Philippe d'Egalité in accusing him of leading most of the popular insurrections, because people had discovered that the Palais Royal, where he dwelt, was always their head-centre. This year it was, as ever, the same chief place of meeting of all restless souls—the same headquarter of the discontented; but it is quite certain that its present proprietor did not enlist and subsidise the mob. The spirit of revolution would not leave the Palais Royal though its owner had become a king, and therefore the latter was obliged to abandon his old home. People spoke of certain inconveniences which caused this change of residence, especially of an apprehended French Guy Fawkes' plot (Pulververschwörung); and of course, as the lower portion of the palace was rented for shops, over which the King dwelt, it would have been easy to smuggle in barrels of gunpowder, and so with all ease blow His Majesty high into air. Others thought it was unbecoming that Louis Philippe should reign above while M. Chevet sold sausages below.[2] But selling sausages is just as respectable a business as reigning, and a citizen king could find no cause for complaint in it, especially Louis Philippe, who only the previous year had mocked at all feudalistic and imperial descent and customs of costume, saying to some young Republicans that "the golden crown was too cold in winter and too hot in summer, a sceptre too heavy or bunchy (stumpf) to be used as a weapon, and too short for a staff, and that a round felt hat and a good umbrella were much more useful in these days."

I do not know whether Louis Philippe remembers using these expressions, for some time has passed since he last strolled through the streets of Paris with a round hat and umbrella, and, with refined true-heartedness, played the part of a simple honest father of a family, a real Jesuit of plain citizenship, a citizen Jesuit.[3] He in those days shook hands with every grocer and workman, wearing for this purpose, it is said, one particular dirty old glove, which he always drew off and replaced with a new and clean 'kid' when he climbed again into the higher regions inhabited by his ancient nobility, bankers, ministers, intriguers, and scarlet lackeys. The last time I saw him, he strolled here and there among the gilded pavilions, marble vases, and flowers on the terrace of the Galerie d'Orleans. He wore a black coat, and over his broad face there passed (spazierte) a nonchalance which well nigh made me shiver, thinking of the man's precarious position, an indifference offensive to both friend and foe, which his father also preserved even at his execution.[4]

It is certainly most reprehensible that the (poor)[5] face of the King has been chosen for a subject of most small jokes, and that he is hung up in all caricature-shops as the butt of mockery. But when the authorities attempt to restrain this, they only make matters worse. Thus we lately saw how from one suit at law of this kind there came another by which the King was still more compromised. I speak of Philippon, the publisher of a caricature-journal, who defended himself as follows:—

"Should any man wish to find in any caricatured odd face a likeness with that of the King, he could do it as soon as he pleased in any figure, no matter how heterogeneous, so that at last nobody could be safe from indictment for lese-majesté."

To prove this, he then designed on a sheet of paper several caricatures, the first of which was a striking portrait of the King, the second was like it, but with less resemblance to royalty, and in this fashion the third suggested the second, and the fourth the third, but this last of all was a perfect picture of a pear, which, however, still preserved a slight, but all the more comical, likeness to the traits of the beloved monarch. As Philippon, despite this defence, was condemned by the jury, he published it in his journal, giving a facsimile of the caricatures which he had drawn in court. On account of this lithograph, which is now known as "The Pear," the witty artist was again prosecuted, and the most delightful results are anticipated from the trial.[6]

The King has, however, been far more painfully compromised by the famous inheritance suit which made the Rohan family dependent on account of the Bourbon-Condé bequest. This incident is so horrible that even the most violent journals of the Opposition refrain from telling all the terrible truth. The public is most painfully annoyed by this; the secret surreptitious manner in which the world whispers about it in the salons is tormenting, and the silence of those who represent the royal house is more significant than the loud condemnation of the multitude. It is the necklace story of the younger branch, only that here, instead of court gallantry and forging, there is something reported far more base and vulgar (gemeineres), that is, swindling away an inheritance and assassination by a female participant. The name Rohan, which here appears, painfully recalls old stories. It seems as if we heard the serpents of the Eumenides hissing, and as if the stern goddesses would make no distinction between the elder and younger branches of the outlawed race. But it would be unjust if men did not recognise this distinction.[7]

I believe that Louis Philippe is no ignoble man, who certainly will not do what is wrong, and who has only the weakness (to yield to the inborn tendencies of his fellows in birth), and to ignore his own most peculiar principle of life.[8] And through this he may yet be ruined. For, as Sallust has shrewdly remarked, governments can only uphold themselves by that to which their existence is due—thus, for example, one which is founded by force must by force maintain itself and not by craft, and vice versâ. Louis Philippe has forgotten that his Government was born of the principle of popular sovereignty, and now, in afflicting blindness, he would uphold it by a quasi-legitimacy, by alliances with absolute princes, and by a continuation of the period of the Restoration. Hence it comes that the spirits of the Revolution bear him ill-will (despise him) even more than they hate[9] and make war on him in every way. This strife is at all events more just than was the feud against the previous Government, which owed nothing to the people, and which from the first was in open opposition to it. Louis Philippe, who owed his throne to the people and to the paving-stones of July, is an ungrateful man, whose apostasy is the more distressing as we perceive day by day that we are grossly deceived.[10] Yes, there are certainly every day most evident retrogressions; and just as they are now quietly replacing the paving-stones which were used in the days of July for warfare (and which in some places are still to be seen heaped up), so that no external trace of the Revolution may be visible, so the people are again being stamped into their previous place like paving-stones, and trodden as before under foot.

I forgot to mention that among the motives which are said to have induced the King to leave the Palais Royal for the Tuileries is attributed the rumour that he had only accepted the crown for appearance' sake, that he remained at heart devoted to his legitimate lord, Charles X., for whose return he was preparing, and that for this reason he would not return to the Tuileries. The Carlists had manufactured this report, and it was absurd enough to obtain credence among the people. Now it is contradicted by facts, for the son of Egalité has finally passed as victor through the triumphal arch of the Carrousel, and promenades with his countenance devoid of care, his round hat and his umbrella, in the historically famous apartments of the Tuileries. It is said that the Queen was very much opposed to living in this maison fatale—this disastrous dwelling, and report goes that during the first night there the King did not sleep as well as usual, and was haunted by many visions. For example, he beheld Marie Antoinette sweeping about with nostrils distended with rage, as once before, on the 10th of August, and then anon, heard the spiteful laughter of the Red Mannikin—le petit homme rouge—who often laughed audibly behind the back of Napoleon, even while the Emperor was uttering his proudest commands in the Hall of Audience; till at last Saint Denis appeared to him and summoned him to the guillotine in the name of Louis XVI. Saint Denis, it is well known, is the patron guardian of the kings of France, and especially a saint who carries his own head in his hand.[11]

More significant than all the spectres which lurk in the recesses of the castle are the follies manifested in its outer works. I here refer to the famous fossés des Tuileries. These were for a long time the subject of conversation in salons or at street corners, and they are still spoken of with hatred and bitterness. So long as the hoarding of high boards hid the garden front of the Tuileries from public sight, the most absurd fancies obtained currency regarding what was being done. The majority thought that the King wished to fortify the castle, and that on the garden side, where the mob once entered so easily on the 10th of August, and it was even said that with this view the Pont Royal was to be destroyed. Others thought that the King would only build a long wall to hide from his sight the view of the Place de la Concorde, not from childish fear, but tender feeling, for his father died in the Place de la Grève, but the Place de la Concorde was the ground of execution for the elder line.[12] However, a wrong was done to poor Louis Philippe here, as so often elsewhere. When the mysterious planks were torn away, people beheld neither fortifications nor ramparts, ditches nor bastions, but mere folly and flowers. The King, who has a mania for building, took a fancy to make a little garden for himself and family in and separate from the great garden, which was effected by means of a common ditch and a wire-fence but a few feet high, and in the beds laid out there were already growing flowers as innocent as the garden fancy of the King himself.

Casimir Périer, however, was, it seems, very irate at this innocent idea, which was executed without his previous knowledge or consent.[13] In any case, the public could justly complain of the disfiguring the whole garden, which was a masterwork of Le Nôtre, and which was so imposing from its grand ensemble. It is altogether like cutting scenes from one of Racine's tragedies. English gardens and Romantic dramas may often be curtailed or lessened without injury, often even to advantage, but the poetic gardens of Racine, with their sublime and tiresome unities, pathetic marble statues, their compassed alleys with the cut severe, can—no more than Le Nôtre's green tragedy, which begins so grandly with the grand view of the Tuileries, and terminates so grandly with the high terraces whence we perceive the catastrophe of the Place de la Concorde,[14]—be changed in the least without disturbing their symmetry, and consequently their real beauty. Moreover, this untimely garden-work is for other reasons bad for the King. Firstly, it makes the sovereign an object of constant gossip, which is just at present not peculiarly to his advantage; and secondly, it is a cause that multitudes of street-folk assemble before it, making all kinds of significant comments, who perhaps seek to forget their hunger in gossiping, and who in any case have hands which have long been idle. There may be heard many a bitter sharp remark and red-burning sarcasm which recall 1790. At the entry of the new garden may be seen a copy in bronze of the Knife-grinder, the original of which may be seen in the Tribune of Florence, as to the meaning of which many opinions prevail.[15]

But here, in the Tuileries, I heard modern explanations of the meaning of this image at which many an antiquary would smile in pity, and many an aristocrat secretly shudder.

In any case, this garden plan is a colossal folly, and exposes the King to the most abominable accusations. It may even be interpreted as a symbolic deed. Louis Philippe draws a ditch between himself and his people—that is, he visibly divides himself from them. Or has he grasped the spirit of constitutional monarchy in such a feeble-minded and short-sighted manner as to think that by leaving to the people the greater portion of the garden he can appropriate the lesser more decidedly for himself? No; absolute royalty, with its grandly egotistic Louis XIV., who instead of "L'état c'est moi," could also say, "Les Tuileries c'est moi," such royalty appeared far more stately than constitutional popular sovereignty with its Louis Philippe I., who in anxious care fences in his little private garden and claims a petty wretched chacun chez soi—every one by himself. It is said that the work will all be completed in the spring; and then, too, the new kingdom, which as yet seems to be so little or newly built, and so freshly smelling of undried mortar (kalkfrisch) will appear more finished.[16] At present it seems to be in the highest degree uninhabitable. In fact, when we now consider the Tuileries from the garden side, with all its digging up and about, its displaced statues and plantings of leafless trees, its stone rubbish, new material for building and all the reparations, amid which there is so much hammering, shouting, laughing and squabbling, we seem to have before us an emblem of the new and incomplete royalty itself.

 

 
[In this letter Heine, with marvellous intuition, as if inspired with prophecy, sets forth clearly the cause which led to the final overthrow of Louis Philippe. That monarch had concluded from his vast experience of the French people that the bourgeoisie were the strength of the nation, and that his own strength depended on them. The country was weary with the wars of the Revolution and of Napoleon, and required rest. But he left out of sight the great fact that the people were restless by temperament, and would soon recover, and that there remained an insatiable sense of chivalry and pride, which Napoleon had greatly increased. When signs of revolution showed themselves in 1847 in Italy, Hungary, and Germany, the French Government manifested great sympathy with the ruling powers of these countries, by surrendering fugitives and similar measures, which was extremely irritating to the French, who sympathised with the foreign movement. They had a King Log at a time when even a King Stork would have been more popular. So the bonhomme Louis, with his umbrella and affected equality, became detestable. They began to laugh at the Pear and the little garden, and in France ridicule kills. I was in Paris in 1847-48, and was well informed as to what was going on. Claude, who was then the prefect of police, tells us in his Memoirs that the Revolution of 1848 came upon him unexpectedly at three hours' notice. He had not time to move his office furniture. One month before, I had written letters to America predicting that the revolution would burst on the 24th February, and its successful issue. I remarked in those days that if the King could have read the signs of the times and have led the people to something, he might have remained in power.

Many very intelligent writers have declared that they could not understand the cause why Louis Philippe was driven away, but I anticipated it—as many others did—long before. He had utterly alienated or irritated the Republicans by his foreign alliances and sympathies, and disgusted the Bonapartists and Legitimists by his patronage of the épiciers or bourgeoisie.

As straws show how the wind blows, I may here remark that Alexander Dumas, who on the 25th February 1848 was heard by a Danish friend of mine to remark that he had brought about the Revolution by writing Le Chœur des Girondins, had really contributed to it much more effectively than he imagined by his universally read romances in which Messieurs D'Artagnan and Co. figure so extensively as dashing swashbucklers. Duelling and romance and war were in the air, and the world, after enjoying peace for a brief season, had begun to tire of their march in the desert, and long for the highly-seasoned fleshpots of old Egypt. Then came King Stork in Napoleon III.—and in due time they tired of him.—Translator.]


 

 
  1. It need astonish no one to learn that after Heine became a pensioner of France, through M. Guizot, this passage was omitted in the French editions of this work.—Translator.
  2. Chevet, a noted provider of all kinds of "comestibles," of whom it was said that the best of everything in France was always secured at once for his shop. Once when Louis Philippe was at a seaport famous for its fish, the King wishing to have them fresh from the sea, ordered some for dinner. After enjoying the delicacy, the King inquired of the landlord if he had really had the best, and was assured that there could be no mistake regarding it "they had been sent from M. Chevet in Paris."—Translator.
  3. "Ein wahrer Jesuit der Bürgerlichkeit, ein Burgerjesuit." This little compliment is omitted in the French version.—Translator.
  4. This passage, which originally appeared in the Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung, was suppressed in subsequent editions, and is published again in the last by Hoffmann & Campe. The following two pages are omitted in the French edition, their absence being indicated by a blank. In a note to the first French edition Heine remarks as to this: "I have here suppressed a remark which may be very interesting for a German, but not for a French reader, to whom the Pear (in reference to a certain trial), has become a wearisome, threshed-out theme. All blanks which may occur in future will indicate the omission of similar passages." But to the attentive reader of Heine these omissions are very significant.—Translator.
  5. Arme, poor, also pitiable. Given in parenthesis.
  6. No caricature ever had such a success as "The Pear." It lasted more or less through all the reign of Louis Philippe. Pears were chalked on all blank walls, and actors ate them with double entendres reflecting on royalty on the stage. Thackeray, in his burlesque of Disraeli's Coningsby, indicates Louis Philippe when visiting Rafael, by saying that he wore a wig which curled up to a point "like a dirty rotten old pear." It was in this "bubby lock," as it is called in Philadelphia (and which was once affected by many small rural American politicians from the air of dignity which it is supposed to confer) that all the likeness to the pear consisted. It is probably true, as some writer has asserted, that nothing during all the reign of Louis Philippe annoyed him so much as the pear.—Translator.
  7. Heine in his note declared that he omitted all the preceding passages for two pages from the French version because the story of "the pear" was too familiar to Parisian readers. But the sting of the serpent was in the tail, or in this mention of the Rohan trial, of which he says nothing.—Translator.
  8. This passage is reduced in the French version to the following words:—"Je crois que Louis Philippe est un honnête homme, qui veut sans doute le bien et n'a que le tort de méconnaître le principe vital par lequel seul il peut exister."—Translator.
  9. Omitted in the French version.
  10. In the French version this is very ingeniously modified and mollified by the change of a single word as follows: "Louis Philippe serait un ingrat dont la défection serait d'autant plus deplorable," &c.—Translator.
  11. In the French version the end of this sentence is as follows:—"Qu'enfin Saint Denis lui était apparu portant selon son habitude sa propre tête dans une de ses mains." This extraordinary coincidence of the headless saint and the decapitated king is here very ingeniously introduced. As regards these visions, all of Heine's on dits and wie man sagt must be taken with the utmost suspicion or absolute distrust. He was never so happy as when retailing the sorriest and flimsiest gossip from the lowest sources, and, as in the case of W. A. von Schlegel and Platen, he brought it forward seriously in grave writing as absolutely established fact.—Translator.
  12. The preceding sentence is omitted in the French version.—Translator.
  13. Vorwissen only in the German version; consentement only in the French.—Translator.
  14. So in both German and French versions, the words "scene of the" being inadvertently omitted. If Louis Philippe had the catastrophe itself always before his eyes, it is no wonder that he had a flower fence erected to shut out the ghostly vision.—Translator.
  15. In all of which it is probable that the learned make as great mistakes as did the revolutionary philanthropist of the Anti-Jacobin when he believed his living knife-grinder to be a victim of social abuses. I conjecture that this statue represents a tinker grinding a knife, "only this and nothing more," for he has the cheek, face, and expression of a tinker, which are the same in all lands and ages, be it among Aryans, Shemites, or Turanians. The terrible explanations of the meaning of the statue to which Heine alludes are that the people saw in it an executioner sharpening the knife of the guillotine.—Translator.
  16. German—"Wird etwas fertiger aussehen." French version "Aura aussi quelque chose de plus habitable."