“Paris, February 26, 1848
Late in the night…
I feel compelled to report on the extraordinary series of events that have transpired in the last few days. Carried along as I was by the sounds and colors of a singular unrest that possesses our city, and with so many signals to process and digest, my quill has remained mostly dry. Yet it now appears certain that these were significant signs; once again, the Revolution is upon Paris.
Even though the moral, economic and political crisis has been unfolding for at least a year, things have escalated in the blink of a few memorable days. Here is a recount of the situation as I perceive it in my condition of interested spectator if not a full militant.
On February 22, a confused agitation rooted itself around la Concorde and les Champ-Elysées, consequence of a government ban of the audacious pro-reformist banquet of the XII Arrondissement. I joined the crowd which still lacked cohesion and observed as I walked nearly a league through various neighborhoods. Thank God, it will have sufficed to convince me of the potentially explosive nature of said discontent gatherings.
The following day, actual riots erupted in les Quartiers de l’Est, where I could make out barricades from a distance. A group of protesters collided at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with a squadron of Troops who opened fire, killing, from what I heard, dozens of people. If a doubt subsists as to the exact number of casualties, I can at least ascertain there were many: rioters carried the bodies through feverish streets, haranguing the population and erecting new barricades, a frightening development I watched with weary eyes.
The King who had initially quibbled about such things, believing he was safely indispensable to the country, then worriedly asked Monsieur Thiers1 to reform the Ministère after Prime Minister Guizot’s resignation, but it seems Thiers dragged his feet. Meanwhile Republicans had seized l’Hôtel de Ville and la Chambre. Rumors spread they were constituting temporary governing bodies there. Trees and gaz lampposts fell, and fires were lit across town as bells tolled. Lead ran, cartridges were rolled. More clashes occurred.
And then suddenly yesterday, the Republican Revolt finally triumphed, carried forward by its own momentum. The King has fled to England, de Lamartine is temporarily leading and the Second Republic has risen.
Where all this will lead our dear France I do not know, but I remain partial to the Order represented by Monsieur Thiers, out of conviction if nothing else.
I must admit that everything happening here only has on me a mitigated impact. I do not regret my decision to settle in the Capital, of course. However I dearly miss the River Loire. I long for sturdy wooden docks, for lines thrown back and forth, for the fishy smell of the sea, for the wind howling in high stays. What would my life be like now if Father had not forbidden me from boarding the Coralie, nine years ago? Would I ever have reached the faraway India, beautiful and mysterious?
I ponder this often, especially since have occurred today a couple of insignificant yet utterly strange affairs. First there was this random encounter with the old fortune teller. When she accosted me, I fully expected her to discourse on the Revolution or launch into some trumpery of her own, but to my barely concealed surprise she instead predicted a long journey and stared at me defiantly, her skin pale as the Earth’s moon and her eyes twitching. Knowing full well that my promise to Father not to ever again travel other than by means of imagination haunts me dearly, and awkwardly makes me lust for a journey around the world even more, I was rattled. I do not believe that my thoughts are so clearly reflected on the palm of my hands, but the coincidence was startling.
The second affair was even stranger. Shortly before starting this letter, I was toying with an old marine compass offered to me by a lad with a sick sense of humour, lost in thoughts. I suddenly noticed that the needle had become completely erratic. Not the kind of expected oscillations caused by the proximity of a ferric object, but something far more disturbed and anarchic, as though the instrument had gone mad in my presence. Therein lays a magnetic anomaly I cannot explain and which I will continue to observe.
I spend most of my free time wondering what the present would be had I acted differently in the past. This is not so much fatalism as it is curiosity. Furthermore, I should think that the understanding of yesterday’s matters allows one to contemplate tomorrow with greater serenity. And more than ever, the perspective of future discoveries fascinates and motivates me.
In this at the very least, shall the Revolution certainly be worthy. Because the birth of new Structures – and consequently of new Minds – can only stimulate the imagination, and man’s desire to make his life more comfortable.”
(Not) Jules Verne
Disclaimer: I intentionally did not start this post by explaining what it was about, curious to see people’s reactions. I wrote this in French some thirty years ago, as part of a yet-unfinished science fiction novel which features famous French writer and visionary Jules Verne2, in his early years, transported against his will to the 21st century and having to evade evil military forces there while marveling at the present.
The letter above was going to be the introduction of his character, several chapters into the book, after the events leading to his time jump (the compass acting up) had already began to unfold. I had researched the time period and even Verne’s whereabouts during these troubled days, so this is rather accurate, historically-speaking.
So this is about the wrong revolution, but happy 14th, France!
- Adolphe Thiers campaigned alongside Victor Hugo, skirmished with King Louis-Philippe and Emperor Napoleon III, and would later become the second elected French President. An interesting life in convoluted times.
- Jules Verne is regarded as one of the fathers of science fiction and is among the world’s most translated authors, ever.