A Night with the Paris Revolutionists

From The Libertarian Labyrinth
Jump to: navigation, search


Danson's la Carmagnole
Vive la Sonne,
Vive la Sonne,
Danson's la Carmagnole
Vive la sonne—du canon.

The chorus to this far-famed revolutionary song was being sung as 1, in company of a number of students from the Latin Quarter—in whose tents I was temporarily abiding—entered the portals of the "Maison du Peuple," situated in the Montmatre quarter of Paris.

News had gone round the studios of the Quatrier Latine during the day that a great meeting of the Paris revolutionaries was to be held that evening in the famous "House of the People," having for its object an expression of support and sympathy with Captain Dreyfus. We were told it would be a notable affair, inasmuch as Louise Michel —one of the foremost characters the Commune produced—was to address the meeting. This fact alone was sufficient reason for our presence there. .

Strangely enough, we had to pass through a posse of municipal police, drawn up in double file, and stretching a good distance from the building into the street. Our nationality being detected by the doorkeepers we were at once taken in hand and conducted through the densely-packed audience to the platform, with the repeated cry of "English friends." There seated, I was enabled to survey the scene before me.

Seated at the platform table was the president of the meeting—a noted professor. On either side of him sat all the important leaders of the revolutionary groups of Paris, including a few Deputies of the French Chamber. Occupying, as it were, a place of honour on the President's right, sat Louise Michel.

It is not easy to convey to those who have not rubbed shoulders with our French cousins in their homes and haunts any idea of their temperaments and varied traits, hence my pen picture of this night must necessarily lose its colouring. For it must be conceded that the French people do not err on the side of animation. Here, then, was a crowd of men and women rendering "La Carmagnole" not alone vocally but demonstratively, too. Be seated they could not; standing, they joined hands, waved arms, gesticulated, what time the very rafters of the room shook again.

The President arose at the finish of the hymn and announced the object of the assembly—to express, as aforesaid, revolutionary sympathy with Captain Dreyfus, who, said he, was being hounded down by the enemies of the people. It was not theirs to stand aside whilst any form of injustice was meted out by the bourgeoise. "But," added he, "Louise Michel was present and would speak"—but here the President's further words were lost in the fiery applause that went up from a thousand and one throats—applause that for long could not be quenched. Immovable, with stern-set countenance—almost repellant, one might add—the heroine of the Commune had previous to this outburst betrayed no expression. But now, a slight colour diffused the pale thin face, and she smiled.

"Whilst the first two speakers were on their feet the crowd were restless. They evidently desired to be moved by the utterances of Louise. Taking the hint, the previous speakers were brief. Needing no introduction by the President, Louise Michel stood, faced that unwieldy assembly and attempted to speak. Then it was that the spirit of the Revolution was in the air. Men and women embraced each other, hats were flung aloft, and we English wondered I Then in one corner of the room, where a crown of young women stood, arose the strains—the stirring strains—of the " Marseillaise," such as Frenchmen and women, fired with the true spirit of revolutionary change, alone ,can render this immortal hymn of freedom. The whole audience joined in the refrain. It was an experience alone worth journeying to Paris to hearken to, and I understood—dimly, perhaps—how great an influence this hymn had upon the events that crowded upon the days of that great Revolution which changed the whole course of European history.

The singing ending, it was now Louise Michel's turn. Amid a great silence she began to speak, at first dealing with the true significance of the events that had called forth that meeting, and then, later, leading on to the general principles of the revolutionary movement, punctuating here and there expressions of opinion that called forth applause, which had to have its adequate expression. One could now feel the beating pulse, so to speak, of Louise and the responsive throbs of the assembly. I am wise enough not to attempt further description of the speech and its influence upon these men and women with their varying emotions, their laughter and tears, their expressions of hate and of love.

At last, completely overdone, the speaker sat down. No other speaker followed. Louise Michel had been enough. Again, the stirring strains of the "Marseillaise," again the thunderous applause and exclamation, and then the gradual dispersion of this assembly to its varied quarters, with its knowledge of the task and its lessons.

[Amalgamated Engineers Monthly Journal. ii, 23. November, 1906. 19.