Memoirs of Vidocq, Volume II/Chapter XXXI
A general clearance at la Courtille—The white cross—I am called a spy—The popular opinion concerning my agents—Summary of the results of the Brigade de Sureté—Biography of Coco-Lacour, M. Delavau, and the Trou-Madame—The grant of my pardon—Retrospective glance over these Memoirs—I can speak, I will speak.
At the period of Fossard's arrest, the brigade of security was already formed; and, since 1812, when it was first established, I had ceased to be a secret agent. The name of Vidocq had become popular, and many persons identified me as the person thus known. The first expedition which had introduced me to notice, had been directed against the principal places of rendezvous in la Courtille. One day, M. Henry having expressed an intention of making a general search at Denoyez's house, that is, a pot-house the most frequented by riotous persons and rogues of every denomination; M. Yvrier, one of the police-officers present, observed, that to put this measure in execution, nothing less than a battalion was necessary. "A battalion," I cried out instantly; "why not the great army? As for me," I added, "give me eight men, and I will answer for success." We have already had a specimen of the acerbity of M. Yvrier's temper, and, on this occasion, his face actually blazed with rage, and he asserted that it was all empty talk.
Be that as it might, I maintained my proposition, and received my orders to proceed at once to the enterprize. The crusade which I was about to enter upon, was directed against thieves, fugitives, and many deserters from the colonial regiments. Having provided myself with an ample supply of manacles, I set forth with two auxiliaries and eight gendarmes; and, on reaching Denoyez's, I entered the public room, followed by two of my attendants. I commanded the musicians to be silent, and they obeyed me; but instantly a cry arose, which soon became general—"to the door, to the door." There was no time to hesitate, and it was necessary to repress the most forward of the party before they became so violent as to proceed to blows. I immediately produced my authority, and, in the name of the law, ordered every one, females excepted, to leave the room. Some murmurs were heard at this injunction, but, after a few minutes, the most riotous surrendered and began to depart. I then stationed myself in the passage, and, as I recognized one or more of the individuals whom I sought, I marked a cross on their backs with white chalk, which was a pre-concerted signal, to point out to the gendarmes, who were in attendance without, to seize them and fetter them as they went out. In this manner we secured thirty-two of these noted offenders, of whom we formed a string, which was conducted to the nearest guard-house, and thence to the prefecture of police.
The boldness of this coup-de-main made much noise amongst the persons who frequent the barrier; and, in a short time it was reported amongst all the thieves and blackguards of Paris, that there was a spy amongst them, called Vidocq. The most notorious threatened to "do for me" on the first opportunity, and some of them attempted it, but were defeated most wofully; and the repulses they met with begot for me such an extensive renown, that it was at length equally spread over all the individuals of my brigade; and there was not a stripling amongst them who had not the reputation of Alcides himself; and, to such a pitch was this idea carried, that, forgetting occasionally of whom they were discoursing, I experienced a sentiment almost amounting to fear, when the people, without knowing who I was, conversed, in my presence, of me or my agents. We were colossal in stature, and the "old man of the mountain" was not more terrible; his emissaries, the Seids, were not more devoted or more to to be dreaded. We broke legs and arms unsparingly; nothing resisted us; and we were everywhere. I was invulnerable; and some asserted, that I was enveloped in armour from head to foot; which may be said, perhaps, to be true, when one is not reputed a coward.
The formation of the brigade soon followed the expedition of la Courtille. I had at first four agents, then six, afterwards ten, and finally twelve. In 1817, I had no more; and yet, with this handful of men, from the first of January to the thirty-first of December, I effected 772 arrests and 39 perquisitions or seizures of stolen property.
The following table, which is a recapitulation of the arrests during the year 1817, shows the importance of the operations of the "Brigade de Sûreté:"—
Assassins or murderers
Robbers or burglars
Ditto with false keys, &c.
Ditto in furnished houses
Pickpockets and cut-purses
Receivers of stolen property
Fugitives from the prisons
Tried galley-slaves, having left their exile
Forgers, cheats, swindlers, &c.
Vagabonds, robbers returned to Paris
By mandates from his excellency
Captures and seizures of stolen property
From the moment that the robbers knew that I was to exercise the functions of principal police agent, they gave themselves up for lost; and what most disturbed them was to see me surrounded by men who, having lived and "worked" with them, knew them thoroughly. The captures I made in 1813 were not so numerous as in 1817, but quite sufficient to increase their alarm. In 1814 and 1815, a gang of Parisian robbers freed from the English prison ships, returned to the capital, where they were not slow in resuming their former avocations: they had none of them ever seen me, nor had I seen them; and flattering themselves with the hope of eluding my vigilance, they commenced their campaign with surprising activity and audacity. In one single night there were in the faubourg St Germain, ten robberies by forcible entry; during more than six weeks nothing was talked of but such hardy exploits as these. M. Henry, despairing of any mode of repressing this system of robbery, was constantly on the watch; and I could discover nothing. At length, after many ambuscades and much vigilance, an experienced thief whom I apprehended, gave me some information; and in less than two months I placed in the grasp of justice a band of twenty-two thieves, one of twenty-eight, a third of eighteen, and some others of twelve, ten, or eight; not to say anything of the single ones, and the many "fences" (receivers), who were all forwarded to increase the population of the bagnes. It was at this period that I was authorised to augment my brigade with four new agents, chosen from amongst those thieves who had the advantage of knowing the new importation of robbers before their departure.
Three of these veterans, named Goreau, Florentin, and Coco-Lacour, who had been long confined at Bicêtre, earnestly prayed to be employed; they said they were entirely reformed, and swore they would henceforward live honestly by the produce of their labours, that is, upon the salary allotted to the police officers. They had been steeped in crime from infancy; and I thought that if their determinations of reformation were sincere, none could render me more important services than themselves, and I thereupon applied for their pardon; and although I was told of the chance of their return to evil courses, particularly the two last, yet by dint of solicitations and representations founded on the utility they could be to me, I obtained their freedom. Coco-Lacour, against whom the greatest prejudice existed, because when a secret agent, he had been accused (rightly or wrongfully is a question) of stealing the plate of the inspector-general Veyrat, is the only one who has given me no cause to repent of having in some degree become answerable for his conduct. The two others soon compelled me to expel them, and they have since been condemned at Bourdeaux. As for Coco, I thought he would keep his word, and I was not deceived. As he was very intelligent, and had some knowledge of his business, I made him my secretary. Subsequently, in consequence of some remonstrances I made him, he gave me in his resignation, as did two of his comrades, Decostard, called Procureur, and another named Chrétien. Coco-Lacour is now the chief police agent; and until he publishes his Memoirs, it may not be uninteresting to show the vicissitudes through which he has passed in attaining the post which I so long filled. There are many palliatives for his course of life; and in his radical reformation from capital crimes, are shewn potent reasons why we should never despair of the return of a man of perverted courses of life to the paths of rectitude. The documents from which I shall extract the principal features of the history of my successor, are most correctly authentic. Here we have the first traces of his existence left at the prefecture of police. I open the "Registres de sureté," and thus transcribe:—
"Lacour, Marie-Barthelemy, aged eleven years, residing Rue du Lycée; sent to the Force 9th Ventose, year 9, charged with an attempt at robbery: eleven days afterwards sentenced to a month's imprisonment by the Correctional Tribunal.
"The same, apprehended 2nd Prairial following, and again sent to the Force accused of stealing lace in a shop. Set at liberty the same day by the judicial police magistrate of the 2nd arrondissement (division).
"The same, sent to Bicêtre 23d Thermidor, year 10, by order of M. le préfet; discharged 28th Piuviose, year 11.
"The same, sent to Bicêtre 6th Germinal, year 11, by order of the préfet; remanded to the gendarmerie 2nd Floréal following, to be conveyed to Havre.
"The same, aged 17; a notorious pickpocket, and already frequently in custody as such; sent to Bicêtre in July 1807, to serve (voluntarily) in the colonial corps, and remanded 31st of the same month to the gendarmerie, to be conveyed to the fixed destination. Escaped from the Isle of Rhé the same year.
"The same Lacour called Coco (Barthelemy), or Louis Barthelemy, aged 21; born at Paris, a porter, living faubourg St Antoine, No. 297. Sent to the Force 1st December 1809, accused of theft. Sentenced to two years imprisonment by the Correctional Tribunal on the 18th of January 1810, and then handed over to the minister of the marine department as a deserter.
"The same, sent to the Bicêtre 22nd January 1812, as an incorrigible thief. Sent to the prefecture 3d of July 1816."
The youth of Lacour presents a sad picture of the dangers of a bad education. All I can say is, that since his liberation he has shown every symptom of an excellent natural disposition. Unfortunately, his parents were poor; his father, a tailor and porter in the Rue du Lycée, did not bestow any thought or care on the guidance of his early years, on which so frequently depends the destiny of most men. I believe, besides, that he was left an orphan at a very tender age; but certainly he grew up, nursed on the knees of his neighbours the courtezans and milliners of the "Palais Égalité;" and as they found him a nice little fellow, they were prodigal of their favours and caresses; they, at the same time, instilled into him what they termed "acuteness." These were the ladies who took care of his infancy, and with whom he was constantly to be found. He was "the ladies' toy, the charming boy;" and when the duties of their calling took them away from a leisure of so much innocence, little Coco went into the garden, and played with the throng of blackguards, who, between the games of hockey and peg-top, kept a school of initiation into the mysteries of sleight of hand. Nourished by prostitutes, and taught by pickpockets, there is no need to descant at length on the 'trade' in which he acquired an early proficiency. The road he travelled was a dangerous one. One female, who perhaps thought herself entitled to give a better direction to his 'studies,' invited him to her house; her name was Marechal, who kept a notorious house in the Place des Italiennes. There Coco was well nurtured; but complaisance was the only moral quality which his hostess sought to develope, and very complaisant he became: he was at everybody's beck and call, and made himself subservient to the minutest wants of the establishment, whose every detail was perfectly familiar to him. However young, Lacour had his days and hours for walking abroad, and it appears that he did not pass them idly; for before he attained his twelfth year, he was quoted as one of the greatest adepts at stealing lace, and in a very little time his frequent arrests would have procured for him the first rank amongst the shoplifters, called knights of the post (chevaliers grimpants). Four or five years detention at Bicêtre, where he was confined, as a dangerous and incorrigible thief, did not amend him; but there he learned the trade of a cap-maker, and received other instruction.
Insinuating, plastic, with a soft voice, and a face effeminate but not handsome, he took the fancy of a M. Mulner, who, sentenced to sixteen years of hard labour, had obtained permission to await the expiration of his sentence at Bicêtre. This prisoner, who was brother to a banker at Anvers, was a man of good education; and to divert his thoughts, took Coco under his care, and must have aided his studies with much attention, as in a short time Coco could speak and write his own language in a tolerably correct manner. The good graces of M. Mulner were not the only advantage which Lacour derived from an agreeable exterior. During the whole of his imprisonment, a female, called Elisa l'Allemande, (German Eliza) who was enamoured of him, bestowed all possible favours on him; but this girl, to whom he owes life itself, has, according to report, experienced only ingratitude from him in return.
Lacour is a man whose height does not exceed five feet two inches; he is fair and bald-headed, with a mean, nay, almost servile look; his eyes blue, but dull; a care-worn countenance, and nose slightly rubicund at the tip, which is the sole part of his face that is not as pale as a corpse. He is passionately fond of dress and trinkets, and makes a great show of chains and gewgaws of all sorts: in his conversation he affects great refinement, and makes use of fine words upon every occasion. It is impossible to be more polite, nor more humble; but at the first glance it is perceptible that his manners are not those of well-bred society; they are rather those derived from the genteel part of the inmates of prisons, and those places which Lacour has frequented. He has all the suppleness of loins needful to keep a man in place; and moreover has a wonderful aptitude for genuflexion. Tartuffe himself, and the resemblance is striking in more than one particular, could not acquit himself more satisfactorily.
Lacour having become my secretary, could not be made to understand, that, to preserve the decorum of his post, his lady companion, who had turned fruiteress and washerwoman, after giving up a certain other employment, would do well to choose a business somewhat more respectable. A discussion on this subject occurred between us, and rather than yield the point, he resigned his situation. He became a pedlar, and sold pocket-handkerchiefs in the streets; but soon, as fame reports, he became a church-goer, and enrolled himself beneath the banner of the Jesuits, and thence grew into the "odour of sanctity" with MM. Duplessis and Delavau. Lacour has all the devotion which could recommend him in their eyes. One fact I can testify, that at the period of his marriage, his confessor, who deemed a heavy penance necessary, inflicted one upon him of a most rigorous nature, which he endured to the fullest extent. For a month, rising at dawn of day, he went with bare feet to the Rue Sainte-Anne au Calvaire, the only place where he was to meet his wife, who was also expiating offences committed.
After the appointment of M. Delavau, Lacour had an accession of religious fervour; he lived then in Rue Zacharie, and although his parochial church was that of Saint Severin, yet he went to mass every Sunday at Notre-Dame, where chance (of course) always placed him in front of the new préfet and his family. That Lacour was so thoroughly reformed must be a matter of congratulation; but it is to be lamented that it did not commence twenty years earlier; but better late than never.
Lacour has very mild manners, and if he did not get dead drunk occasionally, we should think that he had no other passion than a great love of fishing. He throws his line in the vicinity of the Pont Neuf, and frequently devotes whole hours to this silent enjoyment. Constantly near him is a female, who gives him from time to time the worm with which to bait his hook; it is madame Lacour, formerly celebrated for offering other baits still more captivating. Lacour was enjoying this innocent recreation, the taste for which he partakes with his 'Britannic majesty,' and the poet Coupigny, when honors came in quest of him. The messengers of M. Delavau found him under the Arche-Marion, and took him, line in hand, as the officers of the Roman senate took Cincinnatus from his plough. There are always in the lives of great men, deeds of similarity, and perhaps madame Cincinnatus also sold dresses for the accommodation of the young ladies of her time. This is now the trade of the legitimate better moiety of Coco-Lacour. But "something too much of this." I have said enough about my successor, and now to return to the history of the 'Brigade de Sureté.'
It was in the course of the years 1823 and 1824 that it received its greatest increase of numbers, the amount of agents of which it was then composed being, on the proposition of M. Parisot, extended to twenty, and even twenty-eight, including eight individuals supported by the profits of gambling tables, which the préfet authorised them to keep in the public streets.
When millions (francs) were allowed for the expenses of the police, it is scarcely conceivable how recourse can be had to such pitiful measures. From the 20th of July to the 4th of August, the gambling-tables held under the authority of M. Delavau produced 4,364 francs 20 cents. This was the money of mechanics and apprentices, who were thus inoculated with a lust for the most destructive of all passions. It will scarcely be believed, that a functionary, a magistrate professedly so religious, could lend himself to such immorality; but the perusal of the following document will remove all doubts:—
"PREFECTURE OF POLICE.
"Paris, 13 Jan. 1823.
"We, councillor of state, préfet of police, &c. ordain as follows:—
"To include from this date, the Sieurs Drissenn and Ripaud, formerly authorized to keep in the public streets a gaming-table of 'trou-madame,' in the particular 'Brigade de Sureté,' under the orders of Sieur Vidocq, chief of this brigade.
"They shall continue to keep the gambling-table, but six other persons shall be added to their numbers, who shall also perform the services of secret agents.
"The councillor of state, préfet, &c.
"Copied by the secretaire-general.
It was with a troop so small as this that I had to watch over more than twelve hundred pardoned convicts, freed, some from public prisons, others from solitary confinement: to put in execution, annually, from four to five hundred warrants, as well from the préfet as the judicial authorities; to procure information, to undertake searches, and obtain particulars of every description; to make nightly rounds, so perpetual and arduous during the winter season; to assist the commissaries of police in their searches, or in the execution of search-warrants; to explore the various rendezvous in every part; to go to the theatres, the boulevards, the barriers, and all other public places, the haunts of thieves and pickpockets. What activity must be exercised when only twenty-eight men were appointed for such details on so vast a space, and at so many points at once! My agents had almost the talent of ubiquity, and I, to keep alive the spirit of emulation and zeal amongst them, incited them by unremitting exertions. In no expedition, however perilous, did I spare myself; and if the most notorious criminals have been brought to justice by my vigilance, I may say, without boasting, that the most daring were the capture of my own hands, the prize of my bow and spear. As principal agent of 'La police particulière de sureté,' I might, as chief, have kept quiet at my office in Rue Sainte-Anne: but more actively, and moreover, more usefully employed, I only went there to give my orders for the day, to receive reports, or to give audiences to persons who, having been robbed, came to me with their complaints, trusting to having the thieves detected.
Up to the moment of my quitting office, the police of safety—the only requisite police, that which should have received the greater portion of the funds allowed by the budget, because it is on it principally that reliance has been placed—the police of safety, I say, has never employed more than thirty men, nor cost more than 50,000 francs per annum, from which five were allotted to me.
Such have been, at the utmost, the effective force and the expense of the Brigade de Sureté: with so small a number of auxiliaries, and means so limited, I have maintained security in the bosom of a capital, populated by nearly a million of inhabitants. I have broken up all the associations of malefactors; I have prevented their reunion; and during the year since I have left the police, if no new gangs have been formed, although robberies have increased, it is because all the 'first-rate professors' have been confined at the Bagnes, when I had the commission to pursue them, and the power to repress them.
Before my time, strangers and country people looked on Paris as a den of infamy, where it was requisite to keep incessantly on the alert; and where all comers, however guarded and careful, were sure to pay their footing. Since my time, there was no department, taking the year round, in which more crimes, and more horrible crimes, were perpetrated than in the department of the Seine; now there is none in which fewer guilty offenders have remained unknown, or fewer crimes remained unpunished. In truth, since 1814, the continued vigilance of the national guard has powerfully contributed to such results. Never was the watchfulness of a national guard more requisite, and more efficient: but still it must be allowed that, at the period when the compulsory enlistment of our troops, and the desertion of foreign soldiers poured out upon our metropolis, a crowd of bad characters, adventurers, and needy persons of all nations, in spite of the presence of the national guard, much work was still to be performed by the brigade of safety and their chief. And we did much; and if I feel pleasure in paying to the national guard the well-earned tribute of their merits,—if from the experience I had during their existence, and since their disbanding, I declare that Paris without them cannot be in safety, it is because I have always found in them an intelligence, an anxiety to assist, a perfect desire to act in concert for the public good, which I have never observed in the gendarmes, who manifest their zeal, for the most part, by acts of brutality, after the actual danger has passed. I have left for the present police of safety an infinity of precedents, and the traditions of my enterprizes will not soon be forgotten: but whatever may be the abilities of my successor, as long as Paris shall be destitute of its civil guard, no measures will reduce to a state of inaction the generation of malefactors, which will spring up from the instant that a watch ceases to be kept, at all hours, and in all quarters. The chief of the police cannot be at all points at once, and each of his agents has not the hundred arms of Briareus. On looking over the columns of the daily journals, we are alarmed at the enormous quantity of violent burglaries nightly committed, and yet the journals do not detail nine-tenths of those that occur. It appears that a gang of galley-slaves has recently established itself on the banks of the Seine. The shopkeepers, even in the most frequented and most populous streets, cannot sleep in safety: the Parisian is afraid to leave his apartments for a short excursion into the country: we hear of nothing but breakings in, doors opened with false keys, apartments plundered, &c.; and yet we are in the season of the year most favourable for the lower orders. What must we then expect, when winter comes on, and when, by the interruption of labour, misery will add to her numbers? For, in spite of the assertions of some persons about the king, who are desirous of remaining in ignorance of all that passes around them, misery will engender crime; and misery in a society which is ill combined, is not a scourge from which we can always shield ourselves, even when indefatigably industrious. The moralists of a time when the population was secure, might have been able to assert, that the idle only are liable to die of hunger; but now all is changed, and if we make observations, we shall soon be convinced, not only that there is not employment sufficient for everybody, but, moreover, that the pay for certain labour is not sufficient to satisfy the first demands of nature. If circumstances occur as severe as many anticipate, when trade is languishing, so that industry is exerted vainly in seeking a market for its productions, and that she is impoverished in proportion as she creates, how can so great an evil be remedied? Certainly, it is better to support the necessitous than to think of repressing their despair; but in the impossibility of doing better, and the crisis so near at hand, is it not adviseable, in the first instance, to strengthen the arms of public order? And what guard is preferable to the continual presence of the civic body, who watch and act perpetually under the auspices of legality and honour? Shall we substitute for an institution so noble, so admirable, a changeable police, whose numbers can be extended or curtailed at pleasure? Or, shall we have a legion of agents, who will be discharged the moment they are thought past service? It is generally known that the police of safety is recruited even at the present time from the prisons and Bagnes, which are a sort of preparatory school for spies on robbers, and the nursery whence they must be drawn. Employ these people in numbers, and seek to send them back again when they have acquired the knowledge of the plans of the police; they will return to their old trade, and with additional prospect of success. All trials, when I have made them with my auxiliaries, have proved to me the truth of such an assertion. Not but that some of the members of my brigade (and it was entirely composed of individuals who had undergone sentences of punishment) were incapable of doing an action contrary to honesty; I could quote the names of many to whom I should not have hesitated to confide money to any amount without an acknowledgement for it—without even counting it; but those who were thus thoroughly reformed were in the distinguished minority: and this would not bear out an assertion, (with all respect for the profession) that there were amongst them fewer honest men in proportion, than are to be found in the other classes to which it is deemed honourable to belong. I have seen amongst notaries, money-brokers, and bankers, many faithless agents who have seemed to rejoice in the infamy with which they were covered. I have seen one of my subalterns, a freed galley-slave, blow out his brains, because he had lost at the gaming-table five hundred francs, of which he was only the depository. Can many similar suicides be pointed out in the annals of the Exchange? And yet——but it is not our business to apologise here for the brigade of safety, in a point of view totally foreign to its service. It was the inconvenience of large bodies of spies that I proposed to make evident; and inconvenience results from all that I have said, without mentioning its dangerous effect on the morals of the people, who become thereby familiarised with the idea, that every sentence undergone is a noviciate or introduction to a certain mode of existence, and that the police is only the invalid squadron of the galleys.
It is perhaps from the period of the formation of the Brigade de Sureté that the interest of these Memoirs really commences. It may be thought that I have expatiated somewhat too much at large on my personal affairs, but it was a necessary preliminary that I should impart a knowledge of the vicissitudes through which I have passed to become the Hercules for whom was reserved the purging the earth of dire monsters, and cleansing out the Augean stable. I did not reach the eminence in a single day, but have furnished a long career of observation and painful experience. Soon,—and I have given some trifling specimens of my means to do so,—I will detail my labours, the efforts I have made, the perils I have confronted, the plots and stratagems to which I have had recourse, to fulfil the utmost of my duty, and to render Paris the safest residence in the world. I will unfold the expedients resorted to by the thieves, and the signs by which they may be detected; I will write of their manners and their habits; I will explain their language and their costume, according to the peculiarities of each; for thieves have a costume adapted to the enterprizes in which they are engaged. I will propose infallible measures for the destruction of all rogueries, and putting a stop to the destructive skill of all those swindlers, cheats, impostors, &c. &c. who, in spite of Sainte Pelagie, and despite the useless and barbarous custom of personal arrest (contrainte par corps), daily cheat to the extent of millions (francs). I will lay open all the modes and tactics practised by all these scoundrels to catch their 'gudgeons.' I will do 'all this, aye, more;' I will mention by name the principal of them, and thus brand them in the forehead with a distinguishing mark. I will class the different grades of malefactors, from the murderer to the pickpocket, and form of them lists more useful than those of La Bourdonnaie for the use of the proscribers of 1815; for mine will, at least, have the advantage to pointing out at the first glance, the persons and places to whom mistrust should be attached. I will expose to the eyes of the honest man, all the snares laid to catch him; and I will note down, for the use of the criminal accuser, the various modes of escape by which the guilty but too often succeed in setting at defiance the sagacity of the judge.
I will display to the glare of noon-day the faults of our criminal informations, and the still greater errors of our penal code, so absurd in many of its enactments. I will ask for alterations, revisions; and what I ask will be conceded: because reason, come from where she may, is always sooner or later understood. I will offer important ameliorations in the regulations of prisons and bagnes; and as I compassionate more deeply than another can, the sufferings of my old companions in misery, condemned or pardoned, I will probe the wound to the bottom; and shall, perhaps, be the happy man who will offer to a philanthropic legislator the only remedies which it is possible to apply, and which alone will be not temporising but effective. In delineations, as varied as novel, I will give original traits of many classes of society, destitute as yet of all civilization; or rather which have emanated from her and infest her, attended by all that is hideous and infamous. I will mould with fidelity the physiognomy of these "paria castes;" and I will so contrive, that the necessity of some institutions to purify them, as well as to regulate the manners of a portion of the people, shall result; for having had closer and more frequent opportunities of studying them than any other person, I can give a more exact account of them. I will satisfy curiosity on more heads than one; but that is not the end I aim at. Corruption must be lessened by it, the blemishes on propriety must be more rare, prostitution must cease to be the consequence of certain peculiarities of situation; and those nameless depravities so abhorrent, that those who have abandoned themselves to them have been placed out of the pale of the law as a punishment for their outrage on morals, as well as for the protection of the correct portion of society, should disappear, or cease to be, by their infamous publicity, a perpetual object of just offence to the man who obeys and respects the law of nature. This is the apex of crime; and to root it out, the highest stations of society must be assailed. Persons of exalted rank are tainted with this leprosy, which has lately spread to a dreadful extent. At the sight of venerated names in the list of the modern Sardanapali, we can but shudder at the frailty of humanity; and yet this list makes mention only of those who have been reduced to the necessity of sending for the police, or allowing them to interfere in the disgraceful scenes which they brought on by their own turpitude.
It has been publicly stated that I shall not speak of the political police: I shall speak of all police now existing, from that of the Jesuits to that of the court; from the police of the 'ladies of the pavé' (bureau des mœurs) to the diplomatic police (a system of espionage established by the powers of Russia, England, and Austria); I will show up all the wheel-work, great and small, of those machines which are always set in motion, not for the sake of the general weal, but for the service of him who introduces the drops of oil; that is to say, for the benefit of the first comer who dispenses the cash of the treasury: for when we mention political police, we mention an institution created and maintained by a desire of enriching certain persons at the expense of a government whose alarms it perpetually excites. When we talk of a political police, we talk of the necessity of being incribed in the budget of secret expenses;—the necessity of giving a concealed destination to funds visibly and often illegally levied (such as the tax on prostitutes, and a thousand other trifling imposts);—the necessity for certain administrators to create important wants, asserted to be for state exigencies;—the necessity, in fact, of extortions for the profit of a vile herd of adventurers, intriguers, gamblers, bankrupts, pilferers, &c. Perhaps I shall be fortunate enough to point out the inutility of those perpetual agents destined to prevent attempts which are "few and far between,"—crimes which they have never foreseen,—plots which they have never detected when they were real, or only discovered when they themselves had concocted them. I will develope all these things without disguise, without fear, without temper; I will tell the whole truths whether I speak as a witness or as an actor.
I have always held political spies in the most profound contempt, and for two reasons: first, if they never fulfil their orders, they are rogues; and if they do fulfil them, as soon as it becomes a personal matter, they are wretches. Yet, my functions frequently placed me in contact with the majority of these hireling spies; they were all known to me directly or indirectly, and I shall name them all. I can do it; I have not shared their infamy; I have only seen the mine and countermine somewhat nearer than any other person. I know what are the resources of the polices and counter-polices. I have learnt, and will communicate the means of ensuring their services; how to play them off, to disturb their treacherous and malevolent plottings, and even mystify them. I have observed all, understood all; nothing has escaped me; and those who gave me my cue for hearing and understanding all, were not false brethren; for, as I was at the head of one of the portions of police, they might think I was a bird of their feather. Did we not all grind at the same mill?
I may be believed or not; but so far I have made some confessions so humiliating, as to leave no doubt that if I had belonged to the political police, I should unhesitatingly avow all. The journals, which are not always well-informed, have asserted that they had frequently discovered me in different enterprises; that I and my brigade were in action during the troubles of June; during the missions; at the burial of General Foy; at the anniversary of the death of young Lallemand; at the schools of law and medicine, when certain questions were agitated. It would be easy to assert that I was wherever a multitude assembled; but what would be the fair inference? Why, that I was seeking for thieves and pickpockets where they were carrying on their trade. I was on the look-out for cut-purses, friends or not of "La Charte;" but I defy any one to say that any one of my agents could be detected in uttering a seditious cry. There is no point of relation between a political spy and a police spy. Their attributes are totally distinct: the one only needs the courage to apprehend an honest man, who rarely makes any resistance. The courage of the other is wholly different, and rogues are not so tractable.
There was a report which for some time was very prevalent, namely, that recognized by a water-carrier in the midst of a group of students who would not attend to the lessons of M. the professor Recamier, I was nearly killed by them. I here declare that the statement was utterly unfounded. A spy was certainly pointed out, menaced, and even ill-treated. It was not I, and I confess I was not sorry for it; but had I been amongst the young men who were active in this fray, I should instantly have declared my name: they would soon have known that Vidocq never meddled with respectable young men, who did not carry on business in the "purse and watch line." Had I been amongst them, I would have conducted myself so as not to have drawn down any disagreeables on my head; and it would have been generally understood that my duty did not consist in exciting individuals already too much exasperated. The man who saved himself in a court, and thus escaped their vengeance, was Godin, a peace-officer. Besides, I repeat it, neither the seditious cries, nor the other evidences of opinion, were of consequence to me; and had any one pointed out to me the most seditious of the party, I should not have considered it any part of my duties to have noticed him. The political police is in regular troops, and has always volunteers on grand occasions, paid or unpaid, ready to second its designs. In 1795 the Septembrizers were let loose; they came from under-ground, and returned there again after the massacres. The window-smashers, who, in 1817, were the preluders to the carnage of the Rue Saint Denis, were not, I believe, belonging to the 'Brigade de Sureté.' I appeal to M. Delavau; I appeal to the director Franchet:—the freed convicts are not the worst inhabitants of Paris; and in more cases than one, have evinced that they will not stoop to all that is required of them. My post, as far as concerns political police, was limited to the execution of some warrants of the attorney-general and the ministers; but these warrants would have been enforced without me; and, besides, they had decided legal authority. And besides, no human power, no prospect of reward, could have induced me to act conformably to principles and sentiments not my own: and my veracity will not be impugned, when I state the motives that induced me voluntarily to resign the post I had filled for fifteen years;—when I explain the source and the reason of the ridiculous tale, according to which I was to have been hanged at Vienna, for an attempt to assassinate the son of Napoleon;—when I shall have told to what Jesuitical plot is to be assigned the false story of the apprehension of a thief, who was stated to have been lately seized at the back of my carriage, at the moment I was passing Place Baudoyer.
In drawing up these Memoirs, I at first limited myself to arrangements and restrictions prescribed by my personal situation, which were prudential. Although pardoned since 1818, I was not out of the reach of administrative rigour: the letter of pardon which I have obtained, instead of a revision which would have freed me, was not drawn out; and it might be that the "powers that be," still bearing the license of absolute control over me, might make me repent these disclosures, which do not however exceed the bounds of our constitutional liberty. Now that at the solemn audience of the first of last July, (1828,) the court of Douai proclaimed that the rights which had been taken from me by an error of justice, were at length restored to me, I will omit nothing, I will disguise nothing which it is fitting to say; and it shall still be for the service of the state and the public, that I will be indiscreet: this intention will be evident in every subsequent page. That I may perform it in a way which will leave me nothing to desire, and not to deceive the general expectation in any way, I have imposed on myself a task very painful for a man more accustomed to do than to narrate, that of revising the greater part of these Memoirs. They were terminated, and I might have given them as they were; but, in addition to the inadequacy of a careless style, the reader would therein detect the mark of a strange influence which I must have submitted to unwillingly. Distrusting myself, and little accustomed to the requisites of the literary world, I had submitted my work to the revision of a soi-disant man of letters. Unfortunately, in this censor, whose private orders I was far from suspecting, I met with one who, for a bribe, had undertaken to emasculate my manuscript, and only to present me under the most odious colours; to pervert my meaning, and deprive all I wished to say of its due importance. A very severe accident, the fracture of my right arm, which I was on the point of having amputated in consequence, was a favourable occurrence in aid of the perpetration of such a project; and therefore all haste was made to profit by the period of my excessive sufferings. The first volume and part of the second were already printed, when all this intrigue was discovered. To render it perfect, I must have re-commenced, at a fresh expense; but to that time only my private adventures were detailed; and although I am drawn in the most unfavourable colours, I hope that in spite of the expressions and bad arrangement, since the facts are told, the just estimation will be set on them, and the most correct inferences drawn. All that portion of the narrative which only relates to my private life, I have allowed to remain. I had the right to subscribe to a sacrifice of my self-love; a sacrifice which I make, at the risk of being taxed with immodesty, for a confession, the motives of which have been dissembled or perverted: it marks the limit between what fought to preserve and what to destroy. After my enlistment amongst the pirates at Boulogne, it will be perceived easily that it is I who hold the pen. This prose is such as M. Baron Pasquier was pleased to approve, for which he had even a predilection which he did not conceal. I ought to remember the eulogiums he passed on the abridged reports which I addressed to him: be that as it may, I have repaired the injury as far as was in my power, and in spite of the increase of labour which has fallen to my lot in the direction of a large working establishment which I have formed, resolved my Memoirs shall be really "the police stripped and exposed to the public," I have not hesitated to undertake, in addition, the narration of all that relates to the police. The necessity of such a labour must cause some delays, but it will justify them at the same time, and the public will not be the losers. Formerly, Vidocq, under sentence of justice, could only speak reservedly; now it is Vidocq, the free citizen, who freely narrates "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."
END OF THE SECOND VOLUME.
- Nearly 5 feet 8 inches English measure.