The Works of Heinrich Heine/Vol. 7/Letter 3

The Works of Heinrich Heine  (1893)  by Heinrich Heine, translated by Charles Godfrey Leland
Letter 3: Political Parties in France


Paris, February 10, 1832.

The writer of the foregoing article was guided by true tact when he, blaming the desire for distinction or notoriety which flourishes even more in the hearts of the French than with women in Germany, mentioned exceptionally among the latter a German author who is celebrated as an art critic and translator.[1] This specially excepted person, who, on account of the German disturbances which he himself had caused by certain almanac epigrams (almanachxenien), emigrated hither last year, and who has since then received from His Majesty the order of the Legion of Honour, has been, owing to his restless desire for decorations, only too well remarked by many Frenchmen as supplying them with ample ground for retaliation for the reproach of vanity cast at them from over the Rhine. With their usual perfidy, they have not so much as once advertised this grant of an order in the French journals, and as the Germans, of course, felt themselves honoured in their fellow-countryman, and out of modesty forbore to mention it, it has happened that this event, which is of such great importance for both countries, has as yet been little known. Such neglect and silence was the more intolerable to the new-made knight since it was whispered rather loudly in his hearing that the new order, though he had received it at the hands of the Queen, was utterly valueless so long as its bestowal was not published in the Moniteur. The new knight wished to see this difficulty removed, but there came unfortunately in the way a worse impediment, namely, that the patent of an order granted by the King is utterly devoid of value if it is not countersigned by a Minister. Our knight had, by means of the doctrinaire relations of a certain famous lady, by whom he was once prime favourite,[2] got his order from the King, and it is said that the latter remarked in his whole personality a most striking resemblance to his deceased governess, Madame de Genlis, and wished to pay her honour even after her death in her facsimile.[3] But the Minister, who had at the sight of the Chevalier experienced no such genial emotions, and erroneously mistook him for a German Liberal, feared lest he should discredit the absolute Governments by countersigning the patents. Meantime, a judicious arrangement is anticipated, and in order to secure the acquiescence of the Continental powers negotiations have been entered into, to the effect that the Cabinet of St. James shall move for a similar order, and the petitioner will thereupon go in person to England with an old Indian epic, dedicated to His Majesty King William IV. For the Germans here it is, however, a deeply moving sight to see their highly honoured, weakling, fallen countryman compelled by such delays and hindrances to run from Pontius to Pilate in mud and cold and assaulting anxieties, which are the more difficult to understand since he has at command and for consolation all the examples of Indian indifference which are given in the Ramayana and Mahabharata.[4]

The manner in which the French treat the most important subjects with mocking frivolity shows itself in what is said about the late conspiracies. "That which was acted on the towers of Notre Dame has the air of having been altogether a police intrigue and an arrangement." People say jestingly that it was the disciples of the Classic school, who, out of hatred to Victor Hugo's Romantic romance, "Notre Dame de Paris," wished to burn the church itself. There were revived the witticisms of Rabelais relative to its bells, and the well-known saying, "Si l'on m'accusait d'avoir volé les cloches de Notre Dame, je commencerais par prendre la fuite,"[5] was varied in jest when certain Carlists took to flight in consequence of these occurrences. The last conspiracy of the night of February 2nd is also chiefly attributed to the machinations of the police. It was rumoured that they had ordered in a restaurant of the Rue des Prouvaises a splendid conspiracy of two hundred couverts, and invited some weak-minded Carlists as guests, who were naturally expected to pay the bill. The latter had not on this occasion been sparing of money, and in the boots of one conspirator who had been arrested they found twenty-seven thousand francs. With such a sum something might have been done. I once read in the Memoirs of Marmontel an assertion by Chamfort that with a thousand louis one could stir up a regular insurrection in Paris, and during the recent émeutes this remark continually recurred to me.[6] I cannot for important reasons suppress the fact that money is always needful for a revolution.[7] Even the glorious Revolution of July was not brought out so entirely gratis as is believed. This drama for divinities cost several millions, although the real actors, the people of Paris, strove as rivals in heroism and magnanimity. These things are not done for money alone, but it requires money to set them going. But the foolish Carlists think that they will go of themselves if they have only money in their boots. The Republicans are certainly innocent as regards all the proceedings of the night of the 2nd of February, for as one of them lately said to me, "When you hear that money has been spent in a conspiracy, you may rest assured that no Republican has anything to do with it." In fact, this party has but little money, as it generally consists of honourable and unselfish men. They may, when they attain to power, stain their hands with blood, but not with money. This is known, and people have less fear of intriguers who seek for money more than blood.

The guillotinomania which we find among the Republicans has perhaps been caused by the writers and orators who first employed the phrase système de la terreur to characterise the Government which in 1793 employed the extremest measures to save France. Yet the terrorism which was thereby developed was more a mere show than a system,[8] and the terror was as great in the souls of the rulers as in the people. It is folly when people now, to excite to zealous imitation of the man, carry about plaster casts of Robespierre; and it is folly when people would invoke again the language of 1793, as the Amis du Peuple are doing, and acting thereby, without knowing it, as retrogressively as the most zealous champions of the old régime. He who gathers the red flowers which in the spring have fallen from the trees, and would stick them again with wax to the boughs whereon they grew, acts as foolishly as the one who plants cut and faded white lilies in the sand. Republicans and Carlists are plagiaries from the past, and when they unite it recalls the most ridiculous alliances in mad-houses, where a common restraint brings the most heterogeneous lunatics into the most friendly relationships, although the one who believes himself to be Jehovah despises from the depths of his heart the one who professes to be Jupiter.[9] So we saw this week Genoude and Thouret, the one editor of La Gazette, and the other of La Revolution, standing as allies before the Assizes, and as chorus stood behind them Fitz-James with his Carlists, and Cavaignac with his Republicans. Could there be a more repulsive contrast? And although I am very much averse to the whole being of Republicanism (Republik wesen), yet it pains my very soul when I behold Republicans in such unworthy company. They may indeed meet on the same scaffold with those friends of Absolutism and Jesuitism, but never in the same court of justice. How contemptible do they appear in such association! There is nothing more ridiculous than the mention by the journals that among the conspirators of February 2nd were four ex-cooks of Charles X. and four Republicans of the society Amis du Peuple.

I cannot really believe that the latter were involved in this stupid business. I was myself, by chance, that evening in the meeting of the Amis du Peuple, and I conclude from many circumstances that they thought rather of defence than of attack. There were present fifteen hundred men, well packed together in a small hall, which had the appearance of a theatre. The citizen Blanqui,[10] son of a member of the Convention, made a long speech against the bourgeoisie, the shopmen who had elected as king Louis Philippe, "la boutique incarnée" and that in their own interests, not in those of the people—du peuple qui n'était pas complice d'une si indigne usurpation. It was a speech full of wit, honesty, and anger, but there was wanting free delivery of the freedom to be delivered.[11] In spite of Republican severity, old-fashioned gallantry was not ignored, and with true French courteous attention, the best places near the tribune of the orator were reserved for the dames "citoyennes." The meeting smelt like an old pile of the Moniteur of 1793 which had become dirty from much reading. It consisted principally of either very young or old people. In the first Revolution the enthusiasm of liberty had chiefly inspired men of middle age, in whom the still youthful hatred of priestly deceit and aristocratic insolence was combined with clear and manly matured insight. The youngest and oldest men were the partisans of the senile régime—the latter, or the silver-haired ancients, out of mere custom—the former, the jeunesse dorée, from discontent with the bourgeois simplicity of republican manners. Now it is all changed—c'est l'inverse aujourd'hui—and the true enthusiasts for freedom consist entirely of young or aged people. The latter know from personal experience the infamies of the ancien régime, and they recall with rapture the times of the first Revolution, when they were so strong and great. The former, or the youth, love that age because they yearn for great deeds, and are above all things ambitious of sacrifice and heroism; hence they scorn the stingy small-mindedness and the huckstering selfishness of the present powers that be. The men of middle age are mostly weary with the harassing business of opposition during the Restoration, or spoiled and corrupted by the Empire, whose loud-roaring ambition and brilliant soldier-state destroyed all citizen-like simplicity and love of freedom; and, moreover, this Imperial period of heroism cost so many their lives who would be in their prime now had they survived, that there are really few complete examples of many years to be found.

But among both old and young, in the hall of the Amis du Peuple there was a dignified seriousness, such as we always find among men who are conscious of their own strength. Their eyes, however, flashed, and they often cried "C'est vrai! c'est vrai!"—"it is true!" when the orator adduced a fact. When the citizen Cavaignac, in a discourse which I could not well understand, on account of his short, careless, and rapidly-ejaculated sentences, mentioned the judicial prosecutions to which writers are always exposed, I noticed that my neighbour clung to me from inner emotion.[12] He was a young enragé, a fire-eater with his eyes like raging stars, wearing the low, broad-brimmed hat of black glazed cloth which distinguishes the Republican. "But is it not true," he at last remarked to me, "that this persecution of writers is an indirect censorship? One should dare to print whatever one may say, and man has the right to say anything. Marat declared that it was a great wrong to cite a citizen before a tribunal merely for his opinions, and that a man is only responsible to the public for whatever opinions he may hold. ("Toute citation devant un tribunal pour une opinion est une injustice; on ne peut citer, en ce cas, un citoyen que devant le public.") Whatever a man says is only an opinion. And Camille Desmoulins declared, and with reason, that as soon as the Decemvirs interpolated into the body of laws which they had brought from Greece a law against defamation or libel, it was at once discovered that they meant to destroy freedom and to render permanent the Decemvirate; and in like manner, when Octavius, four hundred years later, revived that law of the Decemvirs against writings or speeches, and added to the lex Juliæ læsæ majestatis, one could say that Roman freedom had drawn its last breath."

I have given these citations to show what are authorities current among the Amis du Peuple. The address of Robespierre of the eighth of Thermidor is their gospel. It was, however, very droll to observe that these people complained of oppression while they were permitted to publicly ally themselves against the Government, and say things the tenth part of which would suffice in Germany[13] to subject them to life-long supervision. But it was reported that on this same evening an end would be put to these disturbances, and the hall of the Amis du Peuple be closed. "I believe that the National Guard and the line will shell us out (nous cerneront) to-night," remarked my neighbour; "have you your pistols for such an emergency?" "I will go and get them," I replied, and leaving the hall, went to a soirée in the Faubourg Saint Germain, where there was naught save lights, mirrors, flowers, bare shoulders, eau sucrée, yellow gloves, and fadaises—frivolities. There was on every face a triumphant joy, as if the victory of the ancien régime had been established, and while the "Vive la Républiqne" of the Rue Grenelle was still ringing in my ears, I must needs hear that the return of the enfant du miracle and of the whole miraculous set of his relations was as good as certain. I cannot here help betraying that I there saw two doctrinaires dance an "Anglaise." These gentlemen dance nothing else but to the English step.[14] A lady in a white dress, on which were green bees which looked like lilies, asked me if the Germans and Cossacks might be relied on for support. I assured her that we should consider it as the greatest honour to be allowed to sacrifice our lives and property for the restoration of the elder branch of the Bourbons. "And do yon know," added the lady, "that this is the day when Henry V., as Duke of Bordeaux, took his first communion!" "What an important day for the friends of the throne and the altar," I replied; "a holy day, deserving to be sung by Lamartine!"

The night, however, of this fine day deserves to be marked blood-red in the calendar of France, and rumours relative to it were the next morning the talk of all Paris. Contradictions of the strangest kind were in circulation, and there is still a mysterious veil over all the history of the conspiracy. It was said that it had been intended to murder all the royal family with the large assembly which had been present in the Tuileries. The concierge of the Tuileries had been won over, and persuaded to admit the conspirators through the great gallery directly to the ball-room; some one had shot at the King but missed his mark; hundreds had been arrested; and so forth, and so on. Even in the afternoon I found before the garden-side of the Tuileries a great crowd gaping and gazing up at the windows, as if trying to see the shot which had been fired there. One man told how Périer had the night before ridden to the Rue des Prouvaires just as the conspirators were arrested, and an agent of police had been shot dead. It had been intended to burn down the Pavilion de Flore and attack the Pavilion Marsan. The King, it is said, is sadly disturbed; women pity him, while men shake their heads in discontent. The French dislike all killing by night. In the stormy days of the Revolution the most terrible deeds were perfectly public and executed by day. As for the horrors of the night of Saint Bartholomew, they were planned and executed by Roman Catholic priests.[15]

How far the concierge of the Louvre was involved in the conspiracy of February 2nd, I have not yet precisely ascertained. Some say that he at once gave the alarm to the police as soon as money was offered to him for the keys. Others say that he really did deliver them, and has, in consequence, been arrested. In any case, it is evident enough how on such occasions the most important posts in Paris are intrusted without any special precautions to the most unqualified persons. The very treasury itself was long in the hands of a speculator in public paper, a M. Kessner, whom the state should reward with the oaken crown for not gambling away on the Exchange a hundred millions of francs, instead of six, as he really did. So the gallery of the Louvre, which is rather the property of all mankind than of the French, might easily be made the scene of nightly riots, and thereby be destroyed.[16]

So the cabinet of medals has become the booty of thieves, who certainly did not take the treasure from love of numismatics, but to put them at once into the crucible. What a loss for science, when we consider that among the stolen antiques were not only examples of the greatest rarity, but perhaps many which were absolutely unique. The destruction of these old coins is irreparable, for the ancients cannot, unfortunately, sit down and make new ones for us. But it is not only a loss for learning; it is that by the destruction of such small monuments of gold and of silver, life itself loses the expression of its reality. Ancient history would sound like a fairy-tale if its coins—the most actual of the realities of those times—did not exist to show us that the early races and their kings, of which we read such wonderful things, really existed—that they were no idle forms of fantasy, no mere creation of a poet's brain, as many writers assert, who would fain persuade us that all the history of olden time, with all its written records, were forged by monks in the Middle Age.[17] Against such assertions we had the most clearly ringing counter-proof in the cabinet of medals in Paris. But these treasures are now irreparably lost, and a part of the world's history has been at once stolen and melted, and the mightiest kings and races of antiquity are now vanished fables, in which man needs to put his faith no more.

It is charming that the window of the cabinet of medals is now provided with iron railings or bars, though it is hardly to be hoped that the thieves will by night restore the stolen property. The said iron bars are painted rosy-red, which makes, indeed, a very fine effect; so every passer-by looks up and laughs. Monsieur Raoul Rochette, the conservateur des ex-médailles—the guardian of the medals which are gone—should wonder that the thieves did not steal him too, since he has always regarded himself as of far more weight and importance than the medals, and regarded the latter as valueless unless accompanied by his oral explanations! Now he strolls about idly, and smiles as our cook did when the cat had stolen a piece of raw meat from the kitchen. "At any rate, she does not know how it ought to be cooked," quoth the cuisinière, and laughed.[18]

Meanwhile, great as the loss may be to ancient history from that theft of the medals, the deficit in the accounts of Kessner appears to cause much greater irritation, for this is more important in the history of to-day. While I write, I learn that the loss is not of six, but ten millions, and that it may amount to twelve. This, of course, greatly diminishes the man's merit, and I can no longer award him the oaken crown. In this treasury deficit, to which touching scenes in the style of Iffland were not wanting, Baron Louis was in great perplexity, for he must eventually pay the guarantee, which was not required of Kessner. He can easily bear this, for he is enormously rich, having annually 200,000 francs of cash revenue, and is an old abbé, without family. Périer grieves over this affair far more than is generally supposed, as it concerns money, which is his strength and his weakness, and how little mercy the Opposition show him under the circumstances is known from the newspapers. These report in detail the undignified scenes which take place in the Chamber of Deputies, which here require no special mention. Indeed, the Opposition behaves as pitifully as the Ministry, and is quite as repulsive to consider. Among the best there is no unity. Odillon Barrat, that crafty brain with the gloomy-plausible glance, will not get away too far from the desired portfolio, and remains behind his party. On the other hand, Mauguin is as much too far in advance of his colleagues. They think he has gone astray because they no longer behold him, and he sees them no more, and that in the literal sense of the term. For Mauguin gives every Wednesday a demagogue soiree, and one of my friends who this week attended one did not find there a single deputy. An old member of the Convention who was present praised Mauguin for the energy of his action and efforts (fortstrebens); but Mauguin modestly replied that, as regarded this, he could keep no comparison with the men of power of the old Convention, yet that he had gone farther, politically, than his colleagues of the Opposition, and that the latter, as was evident, were leaving him.

But while distress and dire need of every kind riot in the bowels of the State, and foreign affairs since the events in Italy and Don Pedro's expedition become more seriously complicated; while all institutions, and even the royal, highest of all, is in danger, and the political disorder (Wirr-warr) menaces every life, Paris is still this winter the same old Paris, the beautiful enchanted city, which smiles so charmingly on youth, which so powerfully inspires the man grown, and so gently consoles old age. "C'est là qu'on peut se passer de bonheur"—"there one can do without happiness," said Madame de Staël—a remark which was strikingly true, but which in her mouth lost its point, because she could not live in Paris, and Paris was all her happiness. So the patriotism of the French consists in a great measure of love for Paris, and if Danton would not fly abroad, "parce qu'on ne peut emporter la patrie attachée aux semelles de ses souliers,"—"because one cannot carry his native land attached to the soles of his shoes," it was as much as to say that he could not find in a foreign country the magnificence of beautiful Paris. But Paris is really France, which is only the great suburb of Paris. Setting aside beautiful landscapes and the agreeable qualities of the people, France is utterly empty, at least intellectually so. Everything which is distinguished in the provinces soon strays to the capital, the foyer of all light and brilliancy. France is like a garden whence all the fairest flowers have been plucked to form a bouquet, and that bouquet is called Paris. It is true that its perfume has not now such power as it possessed after those days of July when the nations were overcome by it, yet it is ever beautiful enough to show magnificently on the bosom of Europe. Paris is not only the chief city of France, but of the whole civilised world, and is the rendezvous of its intellectual celebrities. All is here assembled which is great by love or hate, by feeling or thought, by knowledge or ability, by fortune or adversity, by the future or the past. When we consider the assembly of famous or distinguished men who meet here, Paris may be regarded as a Pantheon of the living. A new art, a new religion, a new life is here created, and the creators of a new world are here in joyous action together. The men in power may act meanly, but the people are great, and feel their terribly sublime destiny. The sons will rival their fathers, who went down with such glory, and so holily, unto the grave. These great deeds are dimly developing and unknown gods revealing themselves. And these men laugh and dance everywhere; everywhere gay jesting and the merriest mockery flourish, and as it is Carnival-tide, many mask themselves as doctrinaires, and cut laughably pedantic faces, and declare that they are afraid of the Prussians.

  1. A. W. v. Schlegel. If, as has been truly said, the real plebeian meanness and bad blood of a man's nature, if it appear in nothing else, will show itself in "incisive" criticism, subtle abuse, or some form of the low art of being disagreeable, it may be declared that in this sentence our author shows himself at its zenith, or rather nadir.—Translator.
  2. Kapaun im Korbe. A common German proverb calls any one who is specially petted a "Hahn im korb,"—"A cock in a basket." Heine here spitefully makes of the cock a capon.
  3. Among the innumerable vile and lying slanders on the royal family was one that Madame de Genlis had been the mistress not only of her youthful pupil, but also of his father. Its truth or falsehood was all one to Heine, so that with it he could point a libel.—Translator.
  4. All of the foregoing, from the beginning of the book to this period, is judiciously omitted in the French version.—Translator.
  5. It is curious that the origin of this saying was not in reference to the weight of the bells, but to the stealing of such bells by wizards for magical purposes.—Translator.
  6. Omitted in the French version.—Translator.
  7. Especially when the writers and fighters for it are gentlemen of expensive and luxurious habits, as was illustrated by the late lamented Boulanger, who may be said to have taken this hint from Heine, and to have lived upon it so long as it paid.—Translator.
  8. The French version here adds "un fait passager."
  9. French version 'Quoi que l'un, qui s'intitule Dieu le Père, méprise du plus profond de son cœur, l'autre qui se donne pour Dieu le Fils." This was too strong for Germany. Ten lines of the German text from the word "assizes," in the next sentence, are omitted in the French version.—Translator.
  10. Afterwards in the Gouvernement Provisoire of 1848.
  11. Omitted in the French version. It has the air of a phrase "manufactured to point."—Translator.
  12. In the German text festhielt, and in the French se cramponnait à mot.—Translator.
  13. North Germany in the original and Germany in the French version; but when Heine wrote this was true of every corner of Continental Europe, Switzerland hardly excepted.—Translator.
  14. The point is better given in French than in German: "Je ne puis m'empecher de dénoncer deux doctrinaires que j'ai vus dans cette maison danser des gigues anglaises; ces messieurs ne dansant qu'à l'anglaise." The next sentence is reduced in the French version to "une aimable dame me demanda." It is hardly necessary to remark that the bees indicated Napoleonism and lilies Legitimacy.
  15. This is doubtless due to the same cause which makes a French mob disperse when it begins to rain, as our author has observed. I have seen many émeutes with bloodshed in America, and had some experience of them in France, and have observed that in the former country the populace fight on in grim determination, unheeding rain, storm, or darkness, to the very last, till killed or utterly overpowered, and that the fighting always becomes much more desperate after dark. Very often, as I have myself witnessed, rival parties, after pop-shooting all the afternoon at one another, did not close in for a decisive strife till towards midnight, or later. I believe that this is due to the inflexible dogged perseverance of the American in anything which he undertakes, allied to an insatiate curiosity to know without delay what the end will be. The last sentence, or the reference to Saint Bartholomew, is omitted in the French version.—Translator.
  16. This insecurity still exists. When Henri Rochefort gave the diabolical order, "Faites flamber Paris," he was particularly desirous of destroying the Bibliothèque Nationale, and this library was only saved by the accidental breaking of a wire, which should have transmitted an electric current. So I read at the time in the newspapers; if it be untrue, I am willing to correct the statement.—Translator.
  17. What would Heine have said could he have lived to the present day? Apparently all we are now waiting for is some sophist humbugger to persuade us that the monks themselves were all forgeries.—Translator.
  18. As it befell me once in America, when certain thieves took from me, among other things, a very valuable and rare Egyptian scarabæus—one of two found in the tomb of a king. "Fortunately the beggars do not know what it is worth," whispered my consoling genius. But it was never found again, and was lost to the world. Two pages from this period are omitted from the French version.—Translator.

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This work was published before January 1, 1927, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.


This work was published before January 1, 1927, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.