Recollections of Thirty-nine Years in the Army
1871. FEBRUARY. PARIS AFTER CAPITULATION
abundanceTheatrical parodyContrasted conditionspreparations for
German entryCauses assigned for defeatCitizen and regular soldiers
inaugurated the month of February. The central market, in which were the
food stores arriving from without, was again attacked and pillaged; nor
were the rioters dispersed until a strong military force arrived on the
spot. Further supplies came pouring into the city, until within a few
days there was abundance everywhere; all restrictions on sale removed;
restaurants recovered much of their ordinary aspect. From London came
large quantities of food, and of appliances for wounded; a donation from
the city to the Municipality of Paris. The whole of those supplies, in
accordance with such terms, were divided among the twenty
arrondissements of Paris, with the result that a large share fell to the
dangerous classes so often alluded to; comparatively little to the
professional and other respectable classes who all through the times of
greatest trial had borne their privations in silence. Within a few days
thereafter, so profuse had been the supplies issued that large
quantities, exposed for sale in shops, could be purchased at less than
their ordinary retail price. But money wherewith to make purchases had
not yet come into the hands of those most in want.
The urgency of conditions
among the "better" classes alluded to was known to those of us who had
passed through the difficulties of the siege now at an end; proffered
suggestions in regard to issuing food and other requirement to them were
ignored by those in charge. Thus came about the undesirable state of
things that the disaffected and dangerous among the population had more
than they could make use of; the orderly and reputable obtained little,
if anything, to relieve their necessities. An Englishman applied at the
maine of the 9th Arrondissement for help in food from the don anglais
received. He was asked, "Are you really much in want to-day?" "Very
much," was his reply, "or else I should not have wasted the day by
coming here." So they gave him a halfpenny biscuit, a square inch of
cheese, and three lumps of sugar, but not until he had been kept waiting
several hours! That is but one illustration.
While on the one side the
scenes just mentioned were in progress as an outcome of well-meant
liberality on the part of our own country, others were to be seen, the
style of which presented to us foreigners a phase of Parisian
characteristics altogether new. In a theatre close to the Porte St.
Martin, the privations and various other painful incidents of the siege
were parodied much to the apparent amusement of the crowded house.
Comment on the "performances" in question is best omitted.
Fugitives who had
abandoned their houses while investment of the city was incomplete
returned in daily increasing numbers, to find for the most part that
stores of food and wine they had left behind were non-existent, they
having been taken possession of meanwhile. Railway passenger traffic was
resumed; on the Seine the bateaux mouches conveyed crowds of sightseers
to the various river stations, near which the most interesting relics of
the siege might be seen, including dismantled forts, dilapidated houses,
devastated grounds, and burial places of victims of the war. For the
payment of the indemnity to the Germans in accordance with terms of
Convention it became necessary to raise a special loan. No sooner were
the terms 1 of that Convention published than the people took it up with
enthusiasm; from morning till night queues of intending subscribers,2
from sums of a few francs to thousands, occupied the pavements in the
vicinity of the offices where their contributions were to be received.
Nothing could better indicate the frugality of the Parisian masses in
respect to available money than the fact that a sufficient sum was thus
quickly and readily obtained to enable the municipality to pay to the
German authorities. at Versailles the first moietynamely, one hundred
millions of francs of that indemnity. Return to the ordinary conditions
of the capital went on; shops were re-opened; the windows made gay with
merchandise; gas re-lighted in the thoroughfares at night. Supplies of
provisions and of money in large sums, sent from various sources,
continued to arrive, one noteworthy contribution of the latter kind
being 112,000 francs from Mexico. The process of disarming the troops
was still in progress, until the numbers should be reached in accordance
with the preliminaries already determined. The Government of the Defence
gave place to the National Assembly. The armistice was extended, first
from the 19th to 24th of February, then from the latter date to March
12, the Treaty of Peace being signed on 26th of that first named. Part
of that Convention was that German troops should enter Paris, and occupy
part of the capital until the ratification of the Treaty by the
Assembly. Great excitement and threatened outbreak among the lower
orders was the immediate result, while the papers of the day fanned
rather than moderated popular ill-feeling by rhodomontade and calumnies
in their columns.
Preparatory to the
entrance of the German forces, it was determined that those of Paris
should occupy quarters for the time being on the left side of the Seine;
that the duty of maintaining order should be confided to the Garde
Nationale. The citizen soldiers "magnanimously" offered to take charge
of the artillery guns, for the removal -of which horses were
non-existent; the whole were collected and 9' in the Parc de Monceau,
though at the time questions arose as to the means by which' they were
again to be got from the hands of those to whom they had so fallen.
Signs of probable disturbance multiplied apace; barricades were erected
in some of the principal thoroughfares; fights occurred between the most
violent elements of the populace and the Garde Nationale, with the
result that some of the guns were taken possession of by the former.
Brought in contact with
representatives of various classes of society, political and religious
opinion, opportunity was afforded me to note the views expressed by them
respectively as to the causes to which the present humiliation of Paris
and of France was considered to be due. It was my custom to record the
several opinions expressed in conversation as soon as I had an
opportunity of doing so. I reproduce them as follows, rather than in a
classified order, namely
1. The empire was looked
upon as "expended."
2. The manhood of Paris
and of France had become degenerated in physique; the sick and the
relatively weak having been alone left after the wars of the 1st
Napoleon to propagate their kind.
3. The study of the
military sciences had been neglected; officers underwent examination
rather for the purpose of obtaining appointments than to attain
proficiency in knowledge of their profession.
4. Defects in
administration by the Intendance, and general obstructiveness in that
branch of the service.
so that when emergency of war occurred, n corps was complete in itself;
materiel had to be obtained from Paris, means of transport and roads
being at once blocked in consequence.
6. The soldiers being
allowed to give their votes at elections, their sympathies were diverted
to their political parties rather than with their, military commanders.
7. Want of mutual
confidence between officers from the highest to the lowest rank; between
officers and their men, and between the men themselves. In fact, general
mistrust prevails where confidence should exist.
8. The officers to a
great extent being members of the same class of society to which the
rank and file belong, there is an absence of that deference towards them
by the latter, such as is considered essential to the maintenance of the
highest order of discipline. From this and other circumstances there was
said to exist a deplorable state of indiscipline, of which indeed some
striking illustrations occurred during the siege.
9. Laxity of discipline
among the higher officers, due to the (assigned) circumstance that the
deposed Emperor manifested hesitancy and uncertainty with regard to
punishments for shortcomings and offences on their part.
10. A spirit of
impatience of control and of opposition against authority, fostered by
the conditions of social life in France, including the absence of
domesticity, and, as a consequence, of lively affection between parents
and children, and among children themselves, many of whom spend their
early years among strangers.
11. The expenses
connected with the unfortunate expedition to Mexico had so far exceeded
the estimate, that the Emperor "feared to make public the whole of the
circumstances connected therewith; hence it was considered necessary to
divert to their liquidation money obtained nominally for current
military purposes. Thus it was asserted the actual condition of military
establishments differed from that represented on paper.
12. A general lowering of
the moral sense, of which the religious sentiment is the first great
To this somewhat imposing
list I append the subjoined, which was subsequently collated while
perusing various works relative to the Franco-Prussian war, namely
unpreparedness of a war, which was begun "with frivolity without
(c) Antagonism between
the Paris and Provincial Governments.
(d) Misrepresentations of
actual conditions contained in official Proclamations and in organs of
(e) Political divisions
and sub-divisions among the people, whether official or non-official.
(f) Antagonism of
interests and personal considerations among the higher administrators
(g) Disturbances fomented
and brought about by agitators.
(h) The inferior military
qualities of a large portion of the citizen-soldiers.
(i) Social immorality.
For a long time past piety and moral earnestness have been much shaken
in French society; the cancer of frivolity and immorality has eaten into
the heart of the people.
That several of the
defects above enumerated are real is beyond all question, even when
allowance is made for those which are perhaps more theoretical than
actual. Some had special reference to the episode of the war from which
France was about to emerge heavily crippled; others have a prospective
significance; nor is it easy to conceive of success, so long as they are
permitted to continue.
Adverting to the
non-military qualities already mentioned, and to the conduct in face of
the enemy displayed by the extemporised citizen- soldiers, to whom per
force of circumstances the defence of Paris had to a considerable extent
to be confided, the fact is noteworthy and suggestive that, having
become to some extent acquainted with the use of arms and with war, they
became transformed into very dangerous elements when the Commune was
declared. It was then that they fought resolutely against the Versailles
forces, and committed many of the atrocities by which that occasion was
to be disgraced. Of the troops belonging to the regular army, however,
it is their due to observe that in actual combat the gallantry displayed
by them could not be exceeded; no more could their patient endurance
under the difficulties, privations, and general hardships incidental to
the siege. But individual qualities were overbalanced by the
disadvantages and evils just enumerated.
No sooner had the gates
of Paris been opened, under provision of the armistice, than my
coadjutor I with the Germans performed to me the good and brotherly act
of bringing for myself, and for distribution among my friends and other
persons whom I knew to be in necessitous circumstances, not only liberal
supplies of food, but also considerable sums of money, contributed by
charitable persons to me unknown. It was a source of lively satisfaction
to be able thus to aid individuals and some institutions; and in the
performance of that most pleasant task several incidents occurred the
recollection of which is still fresh. A few examples must suffice. One
lady, to whom I carried a fowl, among other articles, was prostrate in
bed, her physical powers reduced by starvation to an extremely low ebb.
When I told her that she was simply dying from want of food, her reply
was that she really had no appetite; she did not think she could eat
anything if she had it; yet when I supplied her with some savoury
morsels to be used at once, and then the fowl to be cooked later on, her
face brightened, she half raised herself in bed, and clutched the little
articles I had brought to her. Another lady, to whom I presented some
balls of butter, rolled up separately in bits of newspaper, did not
delay to unfold the packet, but took a mouthful of the whole, including
butter and paper. Being informed that I had a few red herrings for
distribution, she next day drove to my hotel in her well-equipped
carriage to receive one of those savoury fish. The "Little Sisters of
the Poor" were astounded and delighted to be presented with a small
cartload of mutton, bread, eggs, butter, and various other articles; for
the aged paupers, to whose care till death they devoted themselves, had
been reduced to extreme want, not a few having succumbed under their
privations. In accordance with invitation from the Lady Superior, I
visited their establishment to receive expressions of gratitude from its
inmates, and in the course of my visit was shown through a ward in the
uppermost storey into which a Prussian shell had penetrated, and where
some of the old, decrepid inmates had there and then died of fright. A
Roman Catholic Seminary sent a representative to express the thanks of
its inmates for supplies given to them. As I subsequently was informed,
the nurses in an ambulance that I similarly aided danced round the table
on which the supplies were displayed, while they invoked blessings on my
head. Some British subjects to whom I was able to give assistance in
food and money were most grateful. As regards myself, what I most craved
for, and indulged in when opportunity offered, was fried fat bacon and
fruit, more especially apples.
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