Paris - The Government Leaves Us
( Originally Published 1915 )
LAST night it was so warm that the Lawyer and I, who had planned to go out to the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré to see how the people around the Place des Ternes were taking things, got no farther than the Place de la Concorde. We waited there with the expectant crowd until a Taube had paid the usual six o'clock visit, and then went to sit in the Jardin des Tuileries beside the fountain of the larger basin. Dead leaves had already fallen on the ground, and despite the heat there was something of autumn in the air. Nurses had taken their charges home, and the only children around were the poor little devils who were trying to make a few sous selling La Presse, L'Intransigeant, and La Liberté.
After settling ourselves as comfortably as we could on the iron chairs the monopolists of Paris gardens rent to you, the Lawyer took out the Temps that he had bought at a boulevard kiosque when he left his office an hour ago. He had not yet unfolded it. We did n't expect anything new. The communiqués for several days have been works of art. What remarkable skill in the combination of meaningless phrases ! They are worthy of the Sioux City dealer's description of a job lot of horses he had repatriated from a Chicago tramway stable, and was palming off as "just arrived from the ranch." So we opened the paper indifferently.
There was nothing in the communiqué except that the English had taken ten cannon from the German cavalry in the forest of Compiègne, that the Germans had "only a curtain of troops" in front of Belfort, and news from Belgium that parts of several German army corps were returning to Germany. oh, I forgot ! There was also a note that the Minister of War had visited the wounded at the Val-de-Grâce, and that the Russians had had another great victory in Galicia.
As has been our wont these days, we turned the communiqué upside down and inside out. The Germans in the forest of Compiègne looked interesting: that the German cavalry were traveling with cannon was more interesting. If there was "only a curtain of troops" before Belfort, why were they allowed to remain there, and where was the rest of the German army? The Minister of War at Val-de-Grace? oh, damn ! A Russian victory in Galicia? Two damns !
The Lawyer and I were reading together. Simultaneously, when we had thus finished the communiqué, our eyes caught a large proolamation on the back page of the Temps, warning the population of Paris that gatherings on public highways and seditious cries would be punished to the full rigor of martial law: for Paris must remember that the state of siege is in force.
"Tiens!" I exclaimed. "Tomorrow is the anniversary of Sedan. What mischief are they expecting?"
The Lawyer turned a cold but knowing eye from the Temps to me. "More likely the Government has skeedaddled or is skeedaddling this evening, and they want to break the news gently."
Three hours before, when the Young American Art Student told me in the Metro that the Government was going to Bordeaux, or had already gone, I asked him if he really believed a canard like that. I did n't ask the Lawyer. There is something about the Lawyer that makes you think he knows what he is talking about.
This morning my concierge called to me as I was going out for breakfast, "Look on the wall of the Ecole des Mines the first thing you do."
I crossed the street with a presentiment of something important. Had the Young American Art Student and the Lawyer been right?
There it was, posted in characters as bold as the words they formed :
ARMY OF PARIS!!
INHABITANTS OF PARIS !
The members of the Government of the Republic have left Paris in order to give a new impetus to the national defense.
I have received the order to defend Paris against the invader.
This order I will carry out to the end. PARIS, September third, 1914.
The Military Governor of Paris, Commanding the Army of Paris.
Quite à la Parisienne, there were other affiches. A long, high sounding proclamation, signed by President Poincare, Premier Viviani, and the members of the Cabinet; a proclamation of the Prefect of the Seine; and the reassuring announcement of some ass of a Deputy to the effect that, while others fled, he felt it his duty, like Casabianca, to remain on the burning deck.
It took some time to go through these affiches. While I stood glued to the pavement in front of them, other passers-by joined me in reading a new chapter in the history of France. They were all working people like myself, a pushcart woman on the way to the Halles Centrales, a butcher's boy, a gardener in the Luxembourg, a wreck of an artist or professor (it is n't always easy in the Latin Quarter to distinguish), ouvriers in their blouses, loafers, and women of various kinds. From their remarks, as well as from the fresh paste, I gathered that the affiches had just been posted.
My entourage was representative of the Paris of seven A. M., which is the Paris that really counts. None was alarmed, none astonished, and, as I am trying here to record what actually happened and how people actually felt, I must state that workaday Paris pays little attention to the President's proclamation, and says très bien to the terse announcement of General Gallieni rather than to the verbosity of those from whom he received the "or-der to defend Paris against the invader." But the chief manifestation was hilarious amusement over the emulator of Casabianca, who signed himself GEORGES BERRY.
Forty-four years ago today, the news of the crushing defeat of Sedan caused the overthrow of the Second Empire. By this sudden and foolish move on the part of the Parisian populace, France was weakened as much as if she had lost a second Sedan. How different the struggle might have turned out, if all parties had rallied loyally around the Empress-Regent Eugenie's Cabinet, in spite of its mistakes and the mistakes of the Cabinet it had replaced; how different if France had faced Bismarck and Europe united ! Internal political strife, rather than the loss of battles, has been the cause of France's military weakness and of her diplomatic defeats. Perhaps it was the feeling that civil strife would again come to their help when their armies pressed victoriously towards Paris that encouraged the Germans to enter upon this war.
It would be foolish to deny the palpable fact that Frenchmen are at this minute divided by as deep and as bitter political feuds as they have ever known in the past. There are parties in opposition to each other, intriguing and interfering with the smooth running of the governmental machine at this critical moment. To what can we attribute the removal of M. Hennion as Prefect of Police? To what can we attribute the scarcely veiled criticisms of M. Clemenceau and others, as soon as things began to go wrong with the initial plan of campaign'?
However, the Germans are going to be disappointed this time. If they have based their calculations on a revolution in Paris, the Government has anticipated this, and has gone to Bordeaux before it is really certain that Paris can or will be invested. For the first time in history,that is, since the days of Charles VII and Jeanne d'Arc—France has been clear headed enough to dissociate the fortunes of the capital and the fortunes of the country. Paris, then, is not France. If the Germans come here, they will have as hollow and disastrous a triumph as that which awaited Napoleon at Moscow.
In the first place, patriotism has dominated political passions. There will be strife, perhaps an attempt at revolution in France, even if final victory is to France. But this political strife, I am glad to be able to say with conviction, will not come as long as a German soldier is upon French soil. All parties have determined, hard as it is for them to control their natural instincts, that they will stand by this present government until the invader has gone.
In the second place, it has dawned upon the French that their military and political fortunes do not necessarily stand or fall by the fate of their capital. This has been so often in the past the enervating cause of defeat. There are some who are wise enough, at this time, to advocate the sacrifice of pride and Paris. They say with sagacity and clairvoyance : "Let us not base all our hopes upon Paris, let us not make the pivot of our resistance to the Germans the keeping of them out of the capital."
our natural instinct is to feel that the most sacred duty of the army at the present hour is the defense of Paris. But may there not be a superior tactical consideration which would forbid the risk of the shutting up of the French army in this city? Paris cannot well be defended unless the General Staff is willing to take this risk.
If, on the other hand, they are wise enough to withdraw across the Marne, keeping the army intact, the capture of Paris from the military point of view would hardly help the Germans : for its moral effect would be great upon the French only if the French had beforehand set all their hopes upon the defense of the capital.
In view of the stake which Russia and Great Britain have in common with France in this war, it is difficult to see how the capture of Paris would effect the general situation. only one nation in the world is liable to be fooled by such a specious victory. That is Turkey.
If the Turkish Cabinet is influenced by the German march on Paris to cast in its fortunes with Germany and Austria-Hungary, it will be a step in advance for civilization. Turkey should commit suicide at this favorable time: for the carving of the bird can be best undertaken when the general European settlement is made after this war!