Attempt to Kill Louise Michel
On Sunday evening, January 22, just at the adjournment of a meeting which she had been addressing in the Gaiety Music Hall at Havre, Louise Michel, the revolutionary heroine of France, was made the object of an assassin's attack. A man named Lucas, standing behind her, fired a revolver at her twice, the shots taking effect in her head. Fortunately the wounds inflicted, though serious, did not endanger her life.
In the afternoon she had lectured in Saint Francois Hall in the same city. The evening lecture was more especially designed for the working people. " As long as she spoke," the "Petit Havrais," an Opportunist organ, was obliged to confess, " she commanded the attention of her hearers, who even listened with pleasure, we will say, so much art did she bring to the presentation of her theories under a humanitarian form, so many refinements did she use to avoid shocking the most prejudiced of her audience, and so many pleasing and poetical expressions did she employ."
When she had finished her speech, Louise Michel and her friends became the objects of violent personal attacks from a group of individuals. Louise took the trouble to answer them. The meeting had just been adjourned, when the attempt was made upon her life.
Hit by two balls, the courageous woman endured heroically the first operation performed by the doctors. Seated at a table, she laid her head upon a napkin, while the physicians probed the wounds. The scratching of the steel upon the bone drew no sound of complaint from Louise, in spite of her atrocious suffering. She talked quietly of her cousin, who awaited her at home, of her caged pets who would not be set at liberty till her return, of a business appointment with her publisher, and of her forthcoming book, "Encyclopedic Readings."
She begged for mercy for her assailant, saying:
"Have them let him go! he is a poor madman."
She asked also that no sensation should be created regarding his criminal act, and even that no report should be telegraphed to Paris lest her friends should be made anxious.
The next day she was taken to Paris, and a reporter of " L'Intransigeant" soon called upon her. He found her in her small and scantily-furnished apartments at No. 9B Victor Hugo Street. On the wall of the front room hung a portrait of the Chicago martyrs. Louise Michel sat at a table, surrounded by a few friends, her head bandaged in linen.
"Imagine," said she, "that they want to take me to the Beaujon Hospital to be examined by Dr. Labbe'. The idea that I should disturb him at this late hour, and for what? I am not Ferry, and do not wish to appear sicker than I am." "But you have a bullet in your head," said the reporter. "You cannot remain in this condition."
"There will be time enough tomorrow. Yon pay much more attention to my wounds than I accord to them myself. Remember that I am not a woman, but a combatant. Let us talk of something else. But first I beg you to promise to help me to release from the hands of justice the unfortunate man who fired at me and whom I pity with all my heart." " But he is a miserable bandit."
"No, he is an unfortunate victim of hallucination, of whom the reactionists have made a tool. They have abused him. They knew that he was fond of drink. He was drunk when he fired the shots. Let him go in peace. He is a poor brute, a man of the stone age."
Upon the reporter's urgent request, Louise Michel then told the following story of the crime:
"The bourgeois meeting passed off quietly, the public listening attentively. From that meeting my friends and I went to Gaiety Music Hall for the evening meeting. We found more than two thousand men and women in the hall. Two fine meetings would have been too much for the reactionists. So in the interval between them they formed a conspiracy against us.
"During my address I was interrupted several times by cries coming from a certain group, one member of which finally appealed to the secretary to know what was to be done with the receipts. This odious insinuation I could not help picking up. I confess that I was violently indignant. Then the insinuations became more precise, and they reproached me with exhibiting myself for money. Is it not abominable? To accuse me so unjustly, me whose life you know, of living at the expense of the people!
"I had to explain that I was dependent upon my pen for my living, and that I was overwhelmed with debts; that I gained nothing by giving lectures and taking part in revolutionary propagandism. For the rest, it is not a trade that is practised for money. I added:
"' When one no longer believes in the honesty of others, it is because he has none left himself.' " The entrance fee was ten cents. A voice cried out to me: "' Then return us our money.'
"I replied that I had neither ten cents to take nor ten cents to return, that only my travelling expenses were paid, and that to come to Havre I had even had to buy a hat and cloak. Finally I announced that I should demand the publication in the newspapers of the receipts and expenses of the two meetings.
"At this point citizen Lucas demanded the floor. I had already noticed him at the afternoon meeting. He mounted the platform. He is a large man, over six feet tall, with enormous hands and a pale face. The secretary called my attention to his false and embarrassed air, and said to me: " 'That big fellow has an ugly look.' '"What have I to do with that?' I answered; 'he has as good a right to speak as another.'
"True, be spoke only to announce that he would not speak. He confined himself to uttering a few incoherent phrases, saying that be had not killed or assassinated anybody and that no speech was to be expected from him; then, instead of returning into the crowd, he sat down on the platform — near me. I said to the secretary:
"'If all our opponents were like him, they would not be very dangerous.'
"The hour was advancing. I wanted to get back to Paris that evening. So, having finished my speech, I adjourned the meeting.
"At the same moment a report rang out behind,me, near my ear. "'Go on!' I shouted; furious at having failed to defeat us in argument, they fire blank cartridges at us, hoping to make us run like hares and thus become ridiculous. The joke is in very bad taste.'
"Scarcely had I finished these words when a second report burst out, this time on the other side of my head. They asked me if I was hit. Having felt no pain, I answered no, but my neighbors declared that I was wounded. Indeed, a little stream of blood was trickling down my face. One ball had struck my right ear, the other had entered below my left ear.
"Immediately my friends surrounded me and took me away, while the crowd rushed upon the murderer and put him in a most pitiful state. A sailor showered blows upon bis face in spite of my supplications. In vain did I ask mercy for him. Finally the police intervened, tore him from the crowd, and with the greatest difficulty took him to the commissioner's office, while my friends escorted me to the hotel under the hall.
"There I was examined for along time,—too long, in fact, for I missed my train. Why was I kept there? With good intentions, doubtless, but it was very exasperating. The next morning I took the six o'clock train, and here I am."
"How do you feel now?"
"Why, very well, as you see. I shall escape with the loss of a little piece of my ear."
"And what have you to say about the attack?"
"That I like people who fire at me better than those who insult me at a distance. At least they have the frankness of their opinion. This Lucas excites my pity. He is a victim, not a guilty man. A victim of his temperament, vitiated by drink, and also a victim of the wretches who have abused his simplicity to incite him against me. He is simply a madman. It seems that, when aiming at me, he made the sign of the cross, as if Anti-Christ were before him. I intend to return to Havre to testify in behalf of this irresponsible being. To think that his family is suffering on my account. I am fond of dumb animals; why should I not take pity on men ? The information that I have received from our friends in Havre is distressing. It appears that Lucas lived with his family in an attic, and that he earned barely enough to keep starvation from the door. That explains many things. I have written the following letter to Madame Lucas: Madame:
Learning of your sorrow, I should like to comfort you. Best easy; as it is inadmissible that your husband could have acted with discrimination, it is consequently impossible that be should not be restored to you.
Neither my friends, nor the doctors, nor the press of Paris, not forgetting that of Havre, will cease to call for his liberation.
And if there should be too much delay about it, I should return to Havre, and this time my lecture would be wholly devoted to obtaining this act of justice.
The whole city would attend. Louise Michel.
On Tuesday she wrote the following note to the editors of "L'Intransigeant":
My dear friends:
I have not been to see you, because Dr. Labbe forbids me to go out, which is incomprehensible, since I am very well.
I rely on you in behalf of this poor woman in Havre. It is only justice: the unfortunate man has one eye almost torn out in consequence of his act of folly, while I still have two eyes; the rule of "an eye for an eye," therefore, is already surpassed.
I embrace you heartily. Louise Michel.
Pierre Lucas is thirty-two years old. He was formerly a clown in a circus, but more recently a private watchman. On his examination before the prosecuting attorney he said that, in killing the queen of the Anarchists, he hoped to suppress the party, which, having lost its leader, would disappear.
- “Attempt to Kill Louise Michel,” Liberty 5, no. 14 (February 11, 1888): 1, 8.