1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Boulanger, George Ernest Jean Marie
BOULANGER, GEORGE ERNEST JEAN MARIE (1837–1891), French general, was born at Rennes on the 29th of April 1837. He entered the army in 1856, and served in Algeria, Italy, Cochin-China and the Franco-German War, earning the reputation of being a smart soldier. He was made a brigadier-general in 1880, on the recommendation of the duc d’Aumale, then commanding the VII. army corps, and Boulanger’s expressions of gratitude and devotion on this occasion were remembered against him afterwards when, as war minister in M. Freycinet’s cabinet, he erased the name of the duc d’Aumale from the army list, as part of the republican campaign against the Orleanist and Bonapartist princes. In 1882 his appointment as director of infantry at the war office enabled him to make himself conspicuous as a military reformer; and in 1884 he was appointed to command the army occupying Tunis, but was recalled owing to his differences of opinion with M. Cambon, the political resident. He returned to Paris, and began to take part in politics under the aegis of M. Clémenceau and the Radical party; and in January 1886, when M. Freycinet was brought into power by the support of the Radical leader, Boulanger was given the post of war minister.
By introducing genuine reforms for the benefit of officers and common soldiers alike, and by laying himself out for popularity in the most pronounced fashion—notably by his fire-eating attitude towards Germany in April 1887 in connexion with the Schnaebele frontier incident—Boulanger came to be accepted by the mob as the man destined to give France her revenge for the disasters of 1870, and to be used simultaneously as a tool by all the anti-Republican intriguers. His action with regard to the royal princes has already been referred to, but it should be added that Boulanger was taunted in the Senate with his ingratitude to the duc d’Aumale, and denied that he had ever used the words alleged. His letters containing them were, however, published, and the charge was proved. Boulanger fought a bloodless duel with the baron de Lareinty over this affair, but it had no effect at the moment in dimming his popularity, and on M. Freycinet’s defeat in December 1886 he was retained by M. Goblet at the war office. M. Clémenceau, however, had by this time abandoned his patronage of Boulanger, who was becoming so inconveniently prominent that, in May 1887, M. Goblet was not sorry to get rid of him by resigning. The mob clamoured for their “brav’ général,” but M. Rouvier, who next formed a cabinet, declined to take him as a colleague, and Boulanger was sent to Clermont-Ferrand to command an army corps. A Boulangist “movement” was now in full swing. The Bonapartists had attached themselves to the general, and even the comte de Paris encouraged his followers to support him, to the dismay of those old-fashioned Royalists who resented Boulanger’s treatment of the duc d’Aumale. His name was the theme of the popular song of the moment—“C’est Boulanger qu’il nous faut”; the general and his black horse became the idol of the Parisian populace; and he was urged to play the part of a plebiscitary candidate for the presidency.
The general’s vanity lent itself to what was asked of it; after various symptoms of insubordination had shown themselves, he was deprived of his command in 1888 for twice coming to Paris without leave, and finally on the recommendation of a council of inquiry composed of five generals, his name was removed from the army list. He was, however, almost at once elected to the chamber for the Nord, his political programme being a demand for a revision of the constitution. In the chamber he was in a minority, since genuine Republicans of all varieties began to see what his success would mean, and his actions were accordingly directed to keeping the public gaze upon himself. A popular hero survives many deficiencies, and neither his failure as an orator nor the humiliation of a discomfiture in a duel with M. Floquet, then an elderly civilian, sufficed to check the enthusiasm of his following. During 1888 his personality was the dominating feature of French politics, and, when he resigned his seat as a protest against the reception given by the chamber to his revisionist proposals, constituencies vied with one another in selecting him as their representative. At last, in January 1889, he was returned for Paris by an overwhelming majority. He had now become an open menace to the parliamentary Republic. Had Boulanger immediately placed himself at the head of a revolt he might at this moment have effected the coup d'état which the intriguers had worked for, and might not improbably have made himself master of France; but the favourable opportunity passed. The government, with M. Constans as minister of the interior, had been quietly taking its measures for bringing a prosecution against him, and within two months a warrant was signed for his arrest. To the astonishment of his friends, on the 1st of April he fled from Paris before it could be executed, going first to Brussels and then to London. It was the end of the political danger, though Boulangist echoes continued for a little while to reverberate at the polls during 1889 and 1890. Boulanger himself, having been tried and condemned in absentia for treason, in October 1889 went to live in Jersey, but nobody now paid much attention to his doings. The world was startled, however, on the 30th of September 1891 by hearing that he had committed suicide in a cemetery at Brussels by blowing out his brains on the grave of his mistress, Madame de Bonnemains (née Marguerite Crouzet), who had died in the preceding July.