Unit 13: Age of Nationalism / Revolution
Herzen on Paris after the June Days
From Herzen, Alexander. Letters from France and Italy, 1847-1851. trans. Judith E. Zimmerman, ed. Judith E. Zimmerman (Pittsburgh and London: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995), 140-141, 146-147.
More than two months have passed since my last letter. It is difficult to continue what I started, for rivers of blood have flowed between that letter and this one. Things I never believed could happen in Europe, not even in moments of bitter irritation and the blackest pessimism, have become commonplace; they are daily occurrences, and are no longer surprising. Profoundly grieved, I have remained to observe the crime of the state of siege: deportations without trial, prison incarcerations without any rights, courts-martial commissions. Something will likely put an end to this unhappy situation, someone will appear to take advantage of the order that has been established--Henri V, Louis Napoleon, or that unfortunate soldier who cheerfully switched from being a warrior to become the executioner, and conscientiously executes streets, residents, thoughts, and words.

A weary people will applaud anyone, they want some peace; they sacrificed everything in the June Days and they lost everything. They wish to heal their wounds, to mourn the victims, and to earn a bit of bread. Poor, heroic people, no matter into whose treacherous hands your destiny fell, you will not hear a reproach from my breast.

If you could see how melancholy, how sad it has become since the June Days. It is dreadful to walk along the streets; there where life teemed, where a huge "Marseillaise" resounded among the other songs from morning to night, there is quiet now; the paper seller dares not shout, the pale, saddened worker sits before his door, a woman in tears beside him--they speak in an undertone and look around. Toward nightfall everything disappears, the street is empty, and a gloomy patrol with loaded rifles marches suspiciously around its quarter. The workman's blouse has almost disappeared from the boulevards. The National Guard attempted to ban it from the Tuileries Garden, as was done under Louis Philippe. The people bear this--they are defeated and know their conqueror. They know that the bourgeois will stop at nothing; they know that in comparison with the bourgeoisie when it is victorious and is defending the rights of capital and the inviolability of property, the Cossacks and the Croats are lambs of gentleness. The people suffer it, but a gloomy anger and melancholy has collected in their souls. . . .

France was not ready for a republic . . . But the provisional government, invested with a terrible dictatorship and supported on Paris, might really have stood at the head of the movement and led the people, educating it with institutions, and not subjecting it to the bloody upheavals by which it is being formed today. This demanded that it have the faith and energy of the Committee of Public Safety and, note, only its faith and its devotion; the conditions were such that it was not at all necessary for the provisional government to condemn itself to the severe, punitive role that surrounded the dictatorship of '93 with a bloody nimbus. I am convinced that almost all the members had a certain desire for good, especially in the first days, when one would have had to be a freak or a monster not to share the general enthusiasm. In addition to Ledru-Rollin, Louis Blanc and Albert were not only republicans, but socialists too. But they did not have enough of that revolutionary nerve that the royalist Mirabeau and the montagnard Danton possessed; they did not have that restless spirit that tore apart the old, that broke it up without turning back, that was impudent and angry in relation to the past, and found satisfaction in destruction. Louis Blanc is more radical than Ledru-Rollin, but, removed in the Luxembourg, he became a preacher of socialism and lost influence on the government.

For the provisional government the primary concern was to appease the middle class in France and the frightened governments in Europe. It did not believe in its own cause--and so destroyed it. It wished somehow to arrange the republic, somehow to maintain peace--and achieved its ends. It was afraid to break with the previous order, and it had no new idea of state organization. Hence its unpleasant, discordant hesitation between various tendencies--now a law appeared based on socialism, now a purely monarchical regulation; one could see in some measures a pale imitation of the Committee of Public Safety, while others were entirely characteristic of constitutional monarchy. The people who judged and regulated France, and all of Europe along with it, never once thought about what precisely should distinguish the new republic from the old monarchy.

Excerpt from LETTERS FROM FRANCE AND ITALY, 1847-1851, by Alexander Herzen, ed. and trans. by Judith Zimmerman, © 1995 by University of Pittsburgh Press. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15261. Used by permission of the publisher.

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