A HOT August afternoon, and the cage slowly mounts with a handful of travelers to the top of the Eiffel Tower. We are not all sight-seers ; at any rate, I can answer for one. The Paris plain is so hot that the ascent is, with me, a last despairing effort for a mouthful of air. It has unexpected advantages now that I am on the move. I see Paris as I have never seen it before. There is the Exhibition Building of 1900, yet to be in all its glory, and at present only a skeleton of timber. The monstrous litter of building- material fills all the Champ de Mars and lines the Seine on both banks, far beyond the esplanade of the Invalides a perspective with no terminal point. Paris is once more being torn down. Were there a speaking-trumpet at hand, one would fain cry, Why can’t you let well enough alone ? ” to the pygmies below.
This mood lasts until we reach the summit, when there is abundant evidence that they set up faster than they lay low. The Champ de Mars is covered and well-nigh roofed. The banks, if still a mighty maze, are not without a plan. So the saving power is once more in the constructive activities of this marvelous race. They have wiped out Paris a dozen times, and every time have left something better in its place. The legacy of the last exhibition was the permanent Museum of the Trocadéro. One legacy of this transformation is to be the Czar’s Bridge. The first span is up, and its lines of red-coated iron, with the masses of masonry on each side, show that we are going to have one more of the finest things in the world.
The bridge does one the service of taking the view from the exhibition, which is, after all, only a secondary affair to Paris itself. There is the everlasting spectacle, more grandiose today than ever. From this elevation the city is manifestly outgrowing its mere walls, as a healthy boy outgrows last year’s jacket. But for these walls Paris might enter into hopeful competition with London for primacy among the largest cities of the world. It stretches away in unbroken lines of milk-white masonry at every point. The inner circle, as one may already call the space within the fortifications, has yet an innermost ring the Paris of the foreigner. This Tatar City may easily be traced from our present elevation, by taking the Round Point as its center, and the Arch as its circumference. Here are all the braveries of the fair for the happy few from many parts of the world a multitude in their aggregate. The British are an ever-diminishing colony ; London is now their capital of pleasure for the whole empire. Good Americans have a tendency to look for their earthly paradise in the same quarter, consistently enough, for the site of that region is notoriously a speculative point. But the balance ” of mankind still seeks its cosmopolis here. Wealthy planters and traders from the four seas, rastaquouères’ from South America, the pick of the Continental aristocracies, all flock this way in the season, and where they fail the French of the same category are quite ready to supply their place.
But, after all, these do not make Paris or the wealth of Paris. The city quite suffices to itself, with the good help of France in the background. It knows as much, and for years past has marked its sense of the fact by a certain want of deference to the outlander. Paris is one of the greatest manufacturing cities of France. Its industries are on the colossal scale. It is a huge exporter, not only of the articles that bear its name, the ” Yankee notions ” of taste for the bazaars of the world, but of all the wares of the market-place. So it has its own life, and that life lies far beyond the straggling band of fire which is to be traced every night in the Champs-Elysées and the boulevards. To my thinking, it is best seen in its own labor quarters. If we were on the hill of Montmartre instead of on this tower, we should find Paris at home. But, after all, we have it at home in Montparnasse, not far from our feet. Here are the people in their habit as they live, and in their ways untainted by the desire to please any but themselves.
The real problem at issue in all this prodigious activity is, Can an old people make itself young again ? It is almost answered in its terms. Yet the hope is so fascinating that it tempts to new experiments again and again. Japan began it the other day, and is still encouraged or deluded with the belief that it is renewing its youth. The French began more than a hundred years ago, when they were still most ancient of days of the moderns, unquestionably, the oldest folk in Europe. They were a polity and a civilization when the English analogue of the man in the street was Gurth the swineherd, and when Italy had for the moment crumbled back into the animate dust of the races out of which Rome was made. Oh, how old they are ! It flashes on you without preoccupation and without warning in modern Paris as well as in the remote provinces. The wrinkles show in the majestic delays of their bureaucracy, in a thousand medievalisms of their ways of thought. I will not say they show under the paint, for that would do injustice to my meaning in doing injustice to them ; for it is an honest attempt to effect the change by the diet of ideas and by the regimen of institutions. In the Revolution they were for doing away with the old Adam in a day and a night. It was the most prodigious day and night in all history ; but when it was past the would-be stripling sat down and wiped his still furrowed brow, and relapsed into the habits of ageinto aristocracy with the Empire, into limited suffrages, into the theory of statehood as mere organized conquest. The new effort came with the downfall of the Second Empire, a catastrophe brought about solely by the failure of that system to serve the old military ideals. It is going on today. The problem is still unsolved. Is it better for a nation, as for an individual, to accept the inevitable, to take itself frankly at its actual count of years, and to make the best of it ? Is there anything more to strive for than a mere artful prolongation of forces which are still necessarily on the decline ? I have sometimes had a curious fancy that these ages of nations might be fixed by a sort of typical correspondence with the ages of individual man.
In this view England has turned sixty, but is still hale, hearty, and well preserved, still better equipped for a day on the moors of empire than many a youngster of them all, yet still within measurable distance of an allotted span. Poor Spain, as we have seen, is as rusty in the joints as her national hero of romance, and has manifestly entered her dismal inheritance of labor and sorrow. So has Italy. The grand republic is in the very prime of manhood, and therefore past the period of his first youth. He has lost some of his illusions, for he lives fast. He will be thirty next birthday I hope I am not rude. Russia is younger, in spite of the chronologies, and the shock-headed young giant has not yet attained to the proper combing of his hair. Germany is five-and-forty if a day, but amazingly well – preserved, thanks to an elaborate chamber gymnastic, the results of which have yet to be tested in the fieldwork of the world. France well, it is an ungracious exercise of fancy at the best, and I leave it an open question, as I am at this moment in her presence. Sometimes you hesitate to give her a day over twenty. Then comes an affaire, or some other disenchantment, and you are sure she will never see ninety again, and that, do what she may, she can never shake off the enemy as he creeps on with his fateful burden of old habits, old ways of life and thought.
But the activity, the mere civic and industrial energy, is prodigious. You return every few years to find a new city. The boasted Paris of the Empire was a village compared with the Paris I see, as in panorama, today. The houses are more like palaces than ever they were before. ” They cut the Pentelican marble as if it were snow,” says Emerson of his Greeks. So the Parisian sculpteur en bâtiment cuts the softer stone of the Normandy quarries. The Empire is no-thing to the Republic in the count of new avenues, of new public works of every kind. The perpetual advance of mere splendor and luxury, for what it is worth, may be traced in the Champs-Elysées. There are still left one or two quaint plaster-fronted houses, which represent the modest ideals of the time of Louis Philippe. Hard by, in any number, are the stone fronts of the Empire, and, rapidly replacing these, the Cyclopean masses in which the modern millionaire swaggers in his pride a perfect riot of carving in their rather gaudy fronts. Naturalistic infants disport themselves over all the vast façade of the new Palace Hotel, with other figures that may charitably be regarded as their mamas. It is not exactly good taste, but, with its still inalienable quality,” what foreign city might not be glad to have half of its complaint of bad? Those white patches in the distance, beyond the walls, are buildings only less superb and less opulent. The mere movement of human beings is amazing. While waiting for its underground railway, now more than half done, Paris travels by automobile and by huge two-decker street-trains, drawn by locomotives, which quite destroy the amenities of the interior scene. The old peaceful cross-roads near the Printemps are a terror, what with trumpeting engines, broughams, cycles, chars-à-banc, all driven by steam or electricity. The tramways here, as elsewhere, are destroying the streets, and the light fiacres bob and dance about over the tormented surface like dinghies in a gale.
I do not say that it is edifying ; still less do I call it delightful. I cite it only in proof of the intensity of the movement. Those who find their account in mere rush and hurry should be in paradise here. The horse will soon have the air of a survival ; the motor, for every kind of street use, is becoming a matter of course. In this invention England, and even America, have been left far behind. The pace is fearful, the accidents are fearful, but such as they are the administration seems to be thankful for them as a safety-valve for the energies that might otherwise have an explosive force in politics. It is a race to the devil that threatens the individual only, and not the state. For good or ill the giant city is all alive at every point. Everything seems to be re-building or rebuilt. The Saint-Lazare station is new ; the Gare de Lyon is newer still. The Orléans line is pushing its way into town by a stupendous settlement that is to occupy the entire site of the Cour des Comptes, burned under the Commune. The whole square of the Invalides is to be undermined by another huge structure of the same sort. This is for Paris only, and, to scale, much the same thing is going on all over the territory in ports, harbors, branch railways, and vicinal roads. It is a rage of renewal. France will be young again if she dies for it. The mere growth is beyond question. If we could peer through the roofs from here we should see a working population of nearly a million and a half, which forms only a part of the total population of ” all souls.” It is one of the greatest manufacturing cities, as well as the greatest city of pleasure on the planet. Ninety-six thousand of these workersLilliputian from the levelwould be found in the tailoring and dressmaking trades, helping to clothe the universe, and to make good Victor Hugo’s boast, ” I defy you to wear a bonnet that is not of Paris fashion or of Paris make.” One hundred and twelve thousand are in metals, precious or otherwise. Over forty-four thousand of the wondrous pygmies would be hard at it in the book and printing trades ; they were but twenty-seven thousand a dozen years ago. I could go on, with the help of a jubilant return lately issued by the Office of Labor, but I generously forbear.
So this may serve to prepare the way for my paradox, that the French are really the most serious and purposeful folk in the world-a great, sad race, too, with a pessimistic bitter for the subflavor of their national gaiety, as it is the subflavor of their absinthe. They put on their high spirits as a garment, and, like the Figaro of their ideal, they laugh lest they should be obliged to weep. “Our lively neighbor,” “the light-hearted Gaul “what thoughtless locutions are these
Our Gauls are a gloomy and a brooding swarm, ever haunted with the fear of being left behind in the race of life, their clear, keen intellect marred and thwarted by wretched nerves. It is the artistic temperament with its penalty. With those nerves there is no answering for their best-laid schemes. They start at shadows, and once started in suspicion, rage, or hate, they have the desperation of the bolting horse. They bolted under the Revolution, in spite of the warning entreaties of Jefferson, who tried to show them how they might run a profitable course to constitutional reform. They are not always bolting, be it well understood. They have long and blessed intervals of national self-possession, ease, and grace, when butter would hardly melt in their mouths. But Mme. France is journalière, rising without any volition of her own in the humor that is to rule the day. When she comes down in the morning with one of her headaches, her nearest and dearest had better find an excuse for getting out of the way. The personification, however, is scarcely felicitous. In point of temperament the men here are the women, and the women the men. The quiet, laborious, cool-headed housewife runs France. The secret of the malady is nature’s ; the secret of the cure is the people’s own. There is none other so ploddingly, so remorselessly industrious. After every outbreak France picks up the pieces, and out of the ruin wrought by the paroxysm makes something finer than before. The fatal war was an attack of nerves. The Jew-baiting is another, and it may be described as a desperate attempt to reconcile Panama to national self-respect. The awful ” affaire” is a third on the same lines. Each attack has been intensified by the new régime of libertystill new, though it is nearly as old as the constitution of the present Republic. Freedom as a habit is the growth of centuries, and these recently converted sinners of despotism are stiff subject to many a slip. So one part of the press of Parisnot the largest part, by a long way, thank God!-is still drunk with the license of invective and denunciation. The sots will sleep it off in the long run, I feel sure, and the better part of the nation will find a hearing for the still, small voice. But oh, just now it is weary waiting for the friends of France, and it is no time to take up the cry, “Courage, mon ami, le diable est mort ! ”
They know perfectly well what is the matter with them, and for their strait-jacket they have invented the administrative machine. This is by no means to be confounded with the purely political variety of the contrivance in use in other latitudes. It is the permanent civil service, the governmentin a word, the great automatic contrivance that keeps them going in national housekeeping while they are on the rampage. No-where else, except perhaps in Germany, is there anything like it for efficiency of a kind. It is everything that they are notstable, unchanging, the slave of tradition, a thing that moves from precedent to precedent, but with restraint instead of freedom for its aim. The first Napoleon was the inventor of it. The material with which he wrought was the wreckage of the old monarchy, still extremely serviceable in parts as a thing approved to the genius of the people by the experience of a thousand years. Dynasties, presidents, ministers, come and go, but the machine grinds on forever to do the work of the day. No matter what the tumult in Paris or at Versailles, the prefects are at their posts in the provinces, and their orders issue as calmly as if there was sleep at the center of the system. It is a Chinese bureaucracy in completeness, with the difference that it is in thorough repair. As a piece of clockwork it is one of the greatest of human inventions. At one end of the mechanism is the President of the Republic; at the other the humblest of the thirty-six thousand odd mayors of the communes of Francesay the little fellow who rules over Blanche-Fontaine in the Doubs, with its population of four-and-twenty souls, ten of them, if you please, municipal councilors. Each of these mayors is a president in his way, as the President is only a glorified mayor. There is no overlapping of areas, no conflict of jurisdictions, and lest there should be, the special contrivance of the Council of State provides for instant appeasement. If my view could extend from this tower to the whole of the territory, I should see one vast nerve system of centralized rule. The village mayor in his sabots stuffed with straw, and with his council equally fresh from the stable, is only the reduced image of the great man at the Elysée surrounded by his ministers. So many mayors and so many communes make a canton, with another council, and generally a superior mayor for its chief. So many cantons make an arrondissement, like the canton, less corporate in its personality, but with yet a council more,always of superior persons, naturally, as we rise in the scale,and with a subprefect at its head. With the arrondissement comes the electoral district for the Chamber. So many arrondissements make a department, and here the prefect sits enthroned again with his council, now a little parliament, for his guide and check. Beyond him is the minister of the interior in the capital, who commands the wires in every sense, and whose touches thrill by devolution and subtransmission throughout the mighty system. Beyond the minister of the interior there is really nothing but the Maker of the universe, and he, I believe, is not officially recognized in the constitution. Uniformity is the note, with certain exceptions of detail that are immaterial in the bird’s-eye view. Paris is only a larger commune, though it has eighty mayors, because if it had seventy-nine less, the one left might rival the President in power. The twofold election of the council by the citizens, and of the mayor by the council, is the corner-stone of the system. The nation elects the Parliament and the Parliament the President in precisely the same way. The mayor, however, is still under control. He can be suspended for a month by the prefect, for three months by the minister of the interior, and forever by the President.
This, as I have said, was Napoleon’s gift to France, and the wiser sort, who dread her moods and their own, esteem it above all his victories. France rails against it from time to time, but she would not get rid of it for the world. The machine carries on the business. It collects the taxes, spends them, welcomes the entry of every citizen into the world, educates, marries, tends him in sickness and in health, and buries him when all is done. It suits everybody in his heart of hearts as a sort of fixed point in a world of flux. All but the wildest aspire to no more than the control of the motive power, only to find, in the long run, that, by its immutable laws of mechanics, it controls them. If they strained it to bursting, they would be the first to mount sky-high. All the revolutions, with perhaps the single exception of the Commune, and I am not quite sure as to that, were really only schemes for securing the control of the machine. They aim merely at changing the course, not the engine. The institution is satisfactory; its occasional uses only leave something to be desired. I re-member once calling on a friend who had been shut up in the old prison of Sainte-Pélagie for some offense under the press laws. I condoled with him, less on the hardships of his lot than on the want of respect for freedom of opinion which it involved. ” We must abolish these detestable cages for free thought,” I cried, looking round on the comfortably furnished room. “You are right,” he said; “all I live for now is to put the opposite party here.” This is the moral of French tolerance for the machine. It is a very good instrument when you have the valves under your own hand.
The interior of a ministry — what a soothing suggestion of immutability ! For the perfect association of ideas I prefer that it should be one of the ministries on this left bank, the other one abounding in patches of raw modernity that spoil the impression. Let it be in the Rue de Grenelle, for choice, or in the Rue de Varenne, not much more than a good stone’s throw from our tower. Oh, the repose of its massive outer defenses of plain stone that keep the courtyard sacred to the sparrows and to the suitors for place ! Within, it is cool, and echoing to the footfall, with, at first sight, the frequent porter for its only inhabitant. He is there for life. You may know it by his urbanity, his unhast ingness, which betoken perfect freedom from the irritation of uncertainty. He exacts a first rough sketch of your business, as in duty bound, then passes you on to a man on the first flight, for whose further information you fill in the drawing with a sort of color-wash of sympathies and hopes. This man may be a little cassant (curt) if he has had words with his wife in the morning, but you are not to take it as personal to yourself.
Now you are just on the fringe of the life of the hive. It is a slippered life, and it is still ease. The messengers who pass to and fro between the porter’s lodge and the rooms still suggest peace ineffable and the continuity of things. Some of them wear long brown holland blouses that eke out their modest incomes by saving their coats. They carry huge dossiers, or port-folios, which seem to memorialize the business of the world, and which, in their bulky universality, are sermons in leather on the insignificance of events. The imaginary perspective of these dossiers, as you might see them stored in the archives, would naturally strengthen the moral. They are the connecting links of all the little systems, monarchical or republican, that have ceased to be, and they maintain the perfect sequence of administrative policy. Those under which the porters stagger for the moment are only the dossiers of the day, the passing wrinkles on the brow of France, which have come here to be smoothed out. They will be smoothed out by means of letters, faultless alike in style and handwriting, the very office-marks of which seem to link you with the present and the past. Now, haply, you come in touch with the clerical staff, but always in a discreet, secluded, monastic sort of way. The beardless dandies are often cadets of good families, who, with subventions from the private purse, are able to cut a figure on the stipend of a laborer. The employment in a ministry gives them position, and that is enough in a country which betrays its age by still cherishing a sort of prejudice against trade. Some of them scribble things for the papers in their abundant leisure ; the detestable Rochefort began in this way. Others save themselves for social successes and a good match. The little bits of red ribbon in the buttonholes betoken the higher grades.
To see all the grades as in review, we must wait for the sacred hour of noon the hour at which we might see the whole city below us black with the shifting specks that mark a whole population pouring out to luncheon. Then the bureaus begin to empty for a solemn lull of business, which lasts for the better part of two hours. The place looks more than ever permanent and unchanging in this view. The French dé-jeuner, the French dinner, gives one faith in the stability of things. They are so purposeful, so deliberate ; they betoken so much the assurance of the continuing city, in their orderly courses, with the coffee and chasse-café to follow, and the billiards, cards, or dominoes for the wind-up. The déjeûner is the solid break in the day, and the strange thing is that its associations of rest and ease do not tend to render the resumption of toil impossible. The staff comes back to new labors, though these are not unduly prolonged. Its output of work is still considerable, although it is slow perhaps because it is slow. The plodding method makes each step sure, and precludes the delays of revision.
The crown of things in stability is the old head porter, who has seen them all come and go, the young sparks into the prefectures or into literature, the chief ministers into private life or into a sort of public obscurity after their brief average of the lime-light of office. The man at the head is the only uncertain element of the composition. The underlings of every grade may remain forever if they like, rising by successive steps until they write chef de bureau after their names. Mutation is reserved for those who have made their mark in the struggles of the political arena, and have suddenly been ” bombarded ” from the outside into the highest seats by explosions of .parliamentary applause. Many of these, under our modern scheme of equality of opportunity, have come from the hum-blest stations, and go back to them after their fall in a way which has something of Roman dignity. Once they might have hoped to save during their tenure of power.
Under the Empire the ministers received a hundred thousand francs a year, with allowances ; but in 1871 the salary was cut down to sixty thousand. This, in spite of free residence at the expense of the state, and other pecuniary privileges amounting in value to about forty thousand francs more, is insufficient. No minister can now make ends meet without a private fortune. They retire from their official state perhaps to the modest pay of a deputy, nine thousand francs a year, and to occasional earnings with the pen ; from glittering banquets and receptions, at which they entertained the magnates of the official world, home and foreign, to the omelet with the cutlet to follow, served by some old peasant woman from Brittany in the fifth-floor flat from which they emerged. From this cage we might almost shake hands with some ministers in their exalted retirement. Their height of disgrace has its consolations. It removes them farther from an unjust earth, and nearer to the compensating stars. I used to find M. Jules Simon at a great elevation, moral as well as material, after a fall from power which perplexed the nations with fear of change. I found M. Yves Guyot au quatrième the other day, drawing his breath with difficulty, I thought, amid a too dense undergrowth of economic literature, and writing his daily article for the ” Siècle ” in championship of the prisoner of Rennes.
The petits employés have the best of it. Venerable figures, you may trace them in their old age to calm retreats in the leafy suburbs that bound our view, where they take the evening air in the zinc summer-houses of gardens relatively as small as their own souls, or under the shadows of plaster busts which figure the transient and embarrassed phantoms of forgotten ministers of the day, to whose favor they owed their place. They are reposing before dinner, after their game of bowls in the public avenue, played to a treble of applause from a circle of their own order.
Law and police form an integral part of the machine, enduring, unchanging, in their hierarchical condition a solid bulwark against the vagaries of the popular spirit. To feel this to the full one should attend the red mass at the Palais de Justice in early November, which marks the reopening of the courts after the long vacation. The Archbishop of Paris presides in person, as though to show the solidarity between all the powers that be. Here again one sees that this shifting society has still its foundation of conservative forces. It is the old order of this old, old people, still holding its own amid the new. The Revolution may have changed the forms ; it could not change the spiritthe way of looking at things, in which habit proves itself the true heir of the ages. The great judges are in their robes of red ; hence the name of the function. Nothing much seems to have happened for centuries, as they file in. So they robed and so they filed when the Bastille still frowned over Paris, and when the oubliettes of the feudal castles were the best-remembered things in France. It is all pure middle age. The black-robed judges of the Tribunal of Commercea touch of novelty by virtue of their officemight be visible from here as they pass from their court on the other side of the boulevard, through a dense crowd. Within the palace the Council of the Order of Advocates, with the bâtonnier at its head, defiles from the prisoners’ gallery to join the judges. The procession moves toward the Sainte-Chapelle, where Saint Louis went to church seven centuries and a half ago, as we may go to church today. The rich toilets of the visitors feed the blaze of color. Here, on the front benches, is the red of the Court of Appeal and of the Court of Cassation, that famous court which stemmed the torrent of” popular fanaticism in the “affaire.” Silk and ermine, velvet and lace, nothing is wanting in the trappings to carry the mind back to the ages of faith.. Justice is solidly established in France, and it is organized on much the same principle as the administration. The justice of the peace, who is the magistrate of the first degree, sits in the chief town of the canton. He is removable only by the President.
The members of the higher courts hold their places for life. Their social sympathies sometimes tincture their judgments. They cannot always forget that they belong by tradition to an order which was one of the nobilities of France the nobility of the robe. They have therefore a sort of fellow-feeling with the nobility of the sword. The bar is a great trade-union, in spite of republican reforms. It is one of the few privileged institutions left, the last of the corporations, and as such about the only complete survival of prerevolutionary France. Its council decides on the admission of candidates, and has a tendency to reject them if they are not of the right sort. In spite of this, the country is overrun by needy lawyers, who push up to Paris as deputies, get dazzled there by the social splendors, and go into isthmian canals, unfortunately not to drown there, but to make their fortunes and enjoy bon souper, bon gite, et le reste with the glittering crowd. The council is most favorably disposed to those who keep the right company, think, and even shave, in the right way. Its upper lip, like that of the bench, is generally a terror, in the pitiless severity of its naked lines. The bar has its own cafés, its own drawing-rooms, its own jokes. The oratory is just what you might expect from the lips. It is the revived oratory of the old school, which went straight to the reason, and left the feelings to take care of themselves. Some of these mensome of the judges especiallyglory in the thought that they have not read a work of literature of later date than the earlier eighteenth century, when, according to them, classic prose reached its high-water mark. Their art, like all art whatsoever in France, is a structure with a plan. They know exactly what they are going to say, and how they are going to say it, and when, by chance, their voice trembles, be sure it trembles to order. The looking-glass has had their first confidences in every effect of gesture. Their hearers know it and expect it, and applaud the structural skill.
Cléry, whom I used to meet in old days, sometimes terrified me by his facility as a speaking-machine. He even sounded the two n’s whenever they came together, as they pride themselves on doing at the Français. Nothing was wanting but the suggestion that the driving power of the amazing organism came from the blood. Maître Rousse was a master of this stylehard, glittering, impeccable. But the hardness was grit. He stuck to his post during the Commune, and fought that usurpation all through with the weapons of law. He must have congratulated himself every night that he still had, not so much a pillow to lie on, as a head to lay on it. Maître Demange, who has fought so valiantly for justice at Rennes and elsewhere, is another strong man. He has more animation, but, whether gay or grave, his manner is throughout tempered by finished ease, and he always keeps within the bounds of the natural note. In spite of recent reforms, the procedure is still absolutely antiquated in its presumption of the original sin of the accused, and in its regard for the sanctity of the accusation. How often has that dismal prison hard by seen wretched suspects in murder cases confronted with the remains of the victim, to the end of drawing conclusions from their tremors, and from the pallor of their cheek ?
Believe me, you cannot have been a power and a polity as far back as Charlemagne for nothing. We have seen lately how they still watch the slumbers of captives, and flash search-lights, the rays of which are expected to reach the conscience, on the blinking eyes. The rule of prudence in France is to contrive always to be the accuser, and to get the first blow in with your charge. Perhaps that is why they exhibit such a tendency to arrest one another all round in street rows. I have seen them standing in a sort of charmed circle of nervous excitement, each with a hand on a neighbor’s necktie. Do not be too hard on them ; they have been brought up on theories of the innate depravity of human nature. Then they are so quick-minded, so acute. A very little knowledge of your own heart soon constrains you to the sorrowful admission that the other man must be a bad lot.
To see a poor devil at his worst, I think, one must see him, not in the rat-pit of a court of justice, but in the preliminary stage of his examination by M. Bertillon. You know him, the official in charge of the bureau of anthropometric measurement for criminals, the March Hare turned expert in handwriting at the Dreyfus trial. He has the genius and, at the. same time, the disease of minutie. He has found out that, if you can only measure a man by certain bone-measurements that never vary, the coincidence of, say, half a dozen of these is a certain clue to his identity. You have no doubt heard the invention described a thousand times. Have you ever seen it put into use? I have, in that very Palais de Justice, when they bring the prisoners in for identification before taking them into the presence of the magistrate. The drift of the inquiry lies in the question, “Have you ever been here before?” “No, monsieur; never,” is, of course, but the one thing to say. At this early stage they never expect you to confess; it would spoil sport for the machine. The morning charges at the Paris police courts are, I suppose, with a difference of local color, the morning charges everywhere. It is no doubt a terrible thing to be a suspect; the unsuspected are against you almost in spite of themselves. The very contrast of each unkempt, unshaven creature with the trim garde de Paris by his side is to his detriment. Then he is led to the measuring-stand,invited to place himself there is, I believe, the proper phrase,–and the attendant, who might be cutting his hair or taking his orders for a suit of clothes, cries out measurement No. I. It is noted on a card. There may be a thousand measurements like it, among the hundreds of thousands of records to which they have constant access, so our old offender may still keep a good heart. But at the second call, of course, assuming a further correspondence, we make a huge stride from the general to the particular. Somebody, clearly, has been here before with the two measurements, say of mid-finger joint and frontal bone, exactly answering to these new ones. Should a third correspondence be established, all but the “dead beats” begin to look grave. Yes, there is certainly another card up there in the archives in perfect agreement so far with the one we are making out. At this point M. Bertillon, feeling that there is no more sport with this bird, seems politely to inquire if he is to go on: “Come, own up!” But most hunted things run till they die ; and “No, monsieur; never here before,” is still the rule. Finally they close down on him, by taking down the old card, and showing him his old photograph neatly pasted on the back, and dated perhaps a dozen years ago. With this the baffled wretch shrugs his shoulders as a sign that the game of hide-and-seek is up, and is marched off into another room to have his portrait taken anew for the appendix to the record. He is often betrayed by his stare of amused curiosity at the old one, as he recognizes a forgotten necktie, a forgotten trimming of the hair, perhaps some traces of a forgotten ‘candor of youth. The Bertillon method is the perfection of the governmental machine, in one of its purely mechanical developments. It is fascinating to an eminently scientific nation to think that, with the aid of science, justice can work with this positive certainty. Some of them, no doubt, dream of a day when the Rontgen rays will be turned with success into the criminal mind, and trials and confessions will alike become a superfluity.
The towers of Notre Dame, standing clear against the sky, may serve to remind us of the great struggle on the part of the statesmen to bring the church into the machine, as a real effective force working heart and soul for the Republic. But they are thwarted by the free-thinkers on the one side, who would like to make agnosticism a cult, and by the church itself, with its traditional respect for the monarchical system. The too logical mind of the French abhors a transaction on the principle of give and take. It is for all or none, and it better understands the tyranny of an opponent’s usurpation than what it regards as the weakness of his compromise. The Pope has made unheard-of efforts to bring the parties together by enjoining a hearty acceptance of the Republic on the part of the Clerical and Monarchical parties. And it is to be noted that, at the last elections, the ” Ralliés,” who represent the Royalists that have come over to the Republic, returned in increased numbers. But, then, so did the Socialists, and between these two there is, I think, racial war. The Radicals, as a free-thinking party, dream of a scheme of reasoned morality that shall take the place of the old religion and be a new one. So they issue neat little manuals, in which they show, Socratically, the logical necessity of doing good to your neighbor, and, as it were, defy you to be other than virtuous if you have a due regard for the syllogism. The late Paul Bert spent no little of his precious time in these exercises. The church, all the churches, are constitutionally parts of the machine. They are subventioned by the state Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and even Mohammedans, alike. They are under the supervision of the minister of public worship. The bishops are nominated by the government, and even when the French cardinals have received their appointment from the Pope, they still come back to have their hats handed to them by the President in solemn audience. It has been said that if the church could see its way to a perfect reconciliation, it might yet form the basis of a dominant conservative party, and that most Frenchmen want no more than to have the priest in his place. I doubt it. Besides, can he consent to take a mere place with the rest? By virtue of his profession, he aspires to nothing less than the dominion of the whole of life. The Radicals are just as strenuous in their determination to find a substitute for him. Ingersoll was only a criticism, after all. Free thought here is, in thousands of minds, a working scheme. Ni Dieu ni Maitre ” was the device of fierce old Blanqui, that tameless lion of revolt. There is a whole literature of religion without God.
Right below us lies the sinister military school. The men that rule there form part of the machine, and the difficulty with them just now is that they want to be the whole of it. They sulk with the civil power on the one side, as the church sulks with it on the other. The hold of the army on opinion is enormous, just because it has become identified with the people as a vast national militia. Every man serves, and most men bring away with them some professional sympathy with the service. As the grocer watches the passing regiment at Long-champ, he feels that he is with comrades, and that their very cloth is only a sort of best suit he has in reserve. The whole future of free institutions in France lies in that grocer’s frame of mind. If he remembers that he is a citizen first and a soldier afterward, the Republic is safe. If not, and he keeps the citizen in the back-ground, then there is no knowing what usurpations may not be dared and done. I am assured by one who ought to know that the soldier is still the citizen, and the republican citizen, in arms. But the same authority admits that, when he served his term, he scarcely looked at a newspaper, or took any interest in the questions of the day. The barrack spirit had marked him for its own. The prevalent uncertainty on this point is sometimes ludicrous in its effects. On the return of a successful commander the first care of the government is to keep him out of the way. When General Dodds came back from Dahomey he was isolated as though he had brought the plague with him. It was the same with poor Major Marchand the other day. If America were France, Admiral Dewey would be invited, not to say ordered, to recruit his health in the country, and the government, while still constrained to offer him a smiling welcome, would tremble every time he approached Washington or New York. In distant colonies, far, far beyond the purview of the tallest of conceivable Eiffel Towers, the generals have sometimes flatly refused obedience to the civil governor. The trembling government, which would have liked to shoot them, has had to go on smiling. Take with all this, as symptomatic, the despatches just to hand from the French Sudan. An officer was recalled for cruelties. He turned, with his native following, on another officer who bore the message, and massacred him and the whites of his mission to a man. Such is the official account of an unverified report, and they may still succeed in shifting the blame to the natives; but some of the wilder newspapers say that an African satrapy under a soldier of fortune would be entirely to their taste.
The machine is only less strong in social than in political influence. The administrative institutions are corps de société as well as corps d’état. Each of them has its salons, managed by clever women who, in intriguing for their husbands, often against one another, still strengthen the general framework. The prefect’s wife looks after the department, as the President’s wife is supposed to look after the state. She encourages waverers, gives the disaffected to understand that they need not be altogether without hope. Society proper, or improper, may think itself entitled to gibe and scoff, as it sometimes does, I believe, in other republics. But nothing can deprive the official world of influence, since it holds patronage and power. Every one of the provincial capitals lying beyond us on all sides in the depths of the haze has its official circle, where the powers that be try to agree not to differ too openly, in the interest of the general stability of things. The university professors and their wives belong to this set. The superior clergy do not refuse their countenance when the professors show a proper outward conformity of respect for the church, and reserve the Voltairean epigram for the fireside. The general in command of the district, or, more strictly speaking, Mme. la Générale, brings the officers to the official dances, at which also the district bench and bar shake a loose leg.
A ball at the Élysée is a great function which has been in process of gradual democratization ever since the foundation of the Republic. Mme. de MacMahon was about the last who tried to keep it select. It was an anachronism. The old couches sociales sulked, and begged to reserve themselves for her private parties. The new were not asked. The true theory of such a gathering is the one that now prevails. It is a review of all the forces that make for order and for stability, and it excludes no one who has a place of importance in the administrative machine.
The diplomatists still have the privilege of a room to themselves. But this is more or less open to the public gaze, and it serves to concentrate some of the most striking effects of the spectacle. Tonight’s ball at the Hôtel de Ville, which, if we could stay long enough, might presently signalize itself to us as a scheme of illumination, is a still more characteristic sight. It is a festival of all the civic forces, where the municipal councilor and the district mayor may feel that they have been admitted to the great partnership of the government. The note of brotherhood, rather than of class distinction, at all these gatherings is the cross of the Legion of Honor, in all its glittering grades. Most other orders seem to cry, Stand off! ” to the mass of mankind. This one cries, ” Come over and help us!” to every active brain and strong hand. To have it not is more of a reproach than to have it is a distinction. Its true and entirely sound significance is there. It is a public certificate of the fact that, whatever your work may be, you have done that work wella universal brevet of eminence in every line of labor and of effort conducive to the common good. You may not want it, butwhat will people think ? One day Gustave Doré began to languish with a sort of green-sickness of melancholy which no one could precisely diagnose. His aged mother was called into consultation, and affirmed with emphasis that he was pining for the Legion of Honor. The matter was immediately referred, in confidence, to the minister of fine arts, and the result was a cross and a cure.
Such is the great governmental machine- a national invention, like the corset, and indispensable to the figure of France. It keeps the country in shape amid a thou-sand shocks. It has scarcely known change since the time of its founder. It has served the varying purposes of Louis XVIII and Charles X and Louis Philippe, of the Republic of 1848 and the Second Empire, and while the servant, it has also been the master of all. It has kept up the real continuity of institutions, and has saved the democracy from itself by opposing a solid rampart to social, as distinct from merely political, innovation. It is a sort of supreme court in the domain of action, ever engaged in looking after the foundations of things, and tempering the wind of crude doctrine to the lamb of the body politic so frequently shorn. Without it, or something like it, that is to say without a strong executive of a kind, France would have gone to pieces a dozen times this century.
But no human contrivance is perfect, and the machine has one weak spot. Its heel of Achilles is the Parliament, and especially the Chamber of Deputies. The Chamber would be well enough if it were a l’Américaine, instead of d l’Anglaiseif it had not the fatal power of unmaking ministries by a vote. With reasonably permanent cabinets, policy would be fairly continuous, as well as administration. As it is, almost any determined minority can upset the ministerial apple-cart by an intrigue. The malcontents have only to lie in wait, and snatch a hostile division when nobody is looking, and out the government goes, though it may have just given itself the proud title of the ” strongest of modern times.” Something is wanted that would confine the deputies to their business of making the laws, and secure the administration in its function of executing them.
The wrecking of ministries has become a mere trick, like the spot stroke in billiards, and, in the interests of France, it should be barred. It was a reproach as far back as the time of Louis Philippe. Murger’s Bohemian, on moving into new lodgings, orders the concierge to wake him every morning by calling through the keyhole the day of the week and of the month, the moon’s quarter, the state of the weather, and ” the government under which we live.” Amid Moderate Re-publicans, Radical Republicans, Radical Socialists, Socialists dyed in the wool, Reactionary Monarchists ditto, and Ralliés, who have graciously accepted the Republic under the promise of a reasonable share of the loaves and fishes, there is always sure to be somebody to offend. If you hold the disinterested position of a mere observer, and have access to the lobbies, you may spy the tempest on the horizon when the cloud is no bigger than a man’s hand. I have seen M. Clémenceau as storm-fiend-in-chief, and M. Clovis Hugues in subcharge of the Cave of the Winds the latter perhaps with a twitching palm which manifestly itches for its threatened application to another member’s face. The cloud bursts as by order ; the ministry is laid on its back. Sometimes there is no warning, and the catastrophe comes as by a bolt out of a clear sky. The machine, of course, is no more disturbed by it than the solid rock would be in the like case ; but the moral effect is none the less to be deplored. The worst evil is the way in which it uses up the governing men. They get tired of being laid on their backs for nothing, and at every fresh crisis there is a greater difficulty in finding entries for this foolish sport. The positive refusals to serve become more numerous and more embarrassing, and the fear grows that the President will finally have to advertise in the newspapers for a minister. There ought to be a club of exministers, or a monthly dinner of them, where they might meet and compare notes on the futility of all effort to please a people with disease of the nerves.
As the bell gives the signal, and it is all aboard ” for the descent, I reflect that France will have to watch herself, or she may find this disease incurable. Her misfortune is that she has been taught to live from this part of the organism in public affairs. Her private life is free from all reproach of the kind. There the nation is serious, calculating, close, ever haunted by the melancholy of a too keenly prophetic vision of the possibilities of ill. It must find an outlet somewhere for the mere spiritual waste of its despondency, and, like the rest of us, it has a tendency to dump its rubbish into the public domain. I am convinced that it would be less frivolous in conduct if it were less sad at heart.