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Title: A Diplomat's Memoir of 1870 - being the account of a balloon escape from the siege of - Paris and a political mission to London and Vienna
Author: Reitlinger, Frederic
Language: English
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  MEMOIR OF 1870

  Being the Account of a Balloon Escape from
  the Siege of Paris and a Political Mission to
  London and Vienna by


  _Private Secretary to M. Jules Favre, Vice-President of the
  Provisional Government of 1870; Avocat of the Cour
  d’Appel, Paris_

  Translated from the French, by his Nephew,
  _M.A. King’s Coll. Camb._



At a time when Englishmen and Frenchmen are brothers-in-arms, a
translation of this curious and little known narrative may be of

It is a record of a somewhat remarkable episode in a stormy and
remarkable year. It describes, possibly not without the inevitable bias
of one sent on a forlorn hope, the necessary refusals of Gladstone
and Lord Granville to intervene in favour of France. But, as the
writer quite prophetically declares, the surrender of Alsace-Lorraine
and the aggrandisement of Prussia were fated to be the inevitable
stumbling-block to peace in Europe, and so “not without moment” to
England. This we now know only too well. 1870 was to be the prelude of

       *       *       *       *       *

Frederic Reitlinger was not by profession a diplomatist, though
circumstances gave him this rôle for a brief and not inglorious
moment. He achieved some distinction at the Bar in Paris under the
Second Empire, and at the request of Napoleon III., made an exhaustive
study of the co-operative movements in England, France and Germany.
When the Empire fell, after Sedan, he accepted the position of
private secretary to the head of the provisional government, M. Jules
Favre. It may well have been his striking and remarkable gift of
eloquence--attested to by all who heard him plead in the courts--that
prompted Favre and the Government in beleaguered Paris to choose him
for the desperate task of attempting to win over the rulers of England
and Austria. The effort failed, as it was bound to fail, but not

After the Peace of Frankfort, Frederic Reitlinger devoted himself to
his practice at the Cour d’Appel. He died in 1907.


  CHAP.                                               PAGE
        TRANSLATOR’S NOTE                                v
    II. THE DEPARTURE                                   21
    IV. A CHANGE                                        37
     V. THE STORM                                       42
    VI. THE FALL                                        48
   VII. AN ENCOUNTER                                    56
  VIII. EN ROUTE FOR THE FRONTIER                       66
    IX. A SPY AT DIEPPE                                 70
     X. ACROSS GERMANY                                  77
    XI. IN AUSTRIA                                      88
   XII. LONDON                                         103
  XIII. AT THE FOREIGN OFFICE                          108
   XIV. HAWARDEN CASTLE                                151




It was the last week in the month of October, 1870. M. Jules Favre,
at that time Vice-President and Minister for Foreign Affairs in the
National Defence Government, summoned me to his office in the Quai
d’Orsay and said:

“You will find it very strange, but since yesterday I have changed my
mind. I now wish to entrust you with another mission. I want you to
go to Vienna and London. The last news which has reached us makes me
hope for a change of public opinion in Europe. There is beginning to be
anxiety for our fate; public sympathy seems to be turning in our favour
and coming back to us. Europe admires the resistance we are making and
is perhaps not far from wishing us successful.”

In his grave and wonderfully modulated voice he described the
situation as it appeared to him. Paris was splendid in its courage
and enthusiasm; the whole of France was up and decided for resistance;
South Germany was discontented with the iron hand weighing upon her,
and anxious to finish a war into which she had been dragged against her
will, and which was devouring her strength and ruining her country.
Finally, Europe returned from her apathy, was deeply impressed by
France’s efforts, and looked forward to the end of what threatened to
degenerate into a war of destruction which would seriously shatter the
equilibrium and general interests of Europe.

I am well aware that this picture was not true at all points; I know
that there was much illusion in the hope which animated the Minister’s
patriotic heart, of seeing Europe cast aside her inertia and raise her
voice on behalf of conquered France against the conqueror ... in favour
of a great and generous people which had fought so much for others,
and which was now defending its own hearths and the integrity of its
national soil against a formidable invasion.

To-day we know all the springs of that steel ring which encircled
France and checkmated the whole of Europe by robbing her of all
initiative and liberty of movement. To-day it is certainly easy to
laugh at these generous hopes, but at that moment they were shared
by all. And it would have been difficult in the great, brave town of
Paris, where so much devotion, energy and patriotism had united for
a supreme struggle for existence, to find spirits sober enough to
consider the enterprise a vain one, or sufficiently far-sighted or
discouraged to regard such generous promptings as illusions.

You who have lived through the siege of Paris, try and recollect the
tremendous change which the situation had undergone since the 4th of
September, and admit I am not exaggerating.

After the disaster of Sedan, when the enemy’s columns were marching
without obstacle against a Paris shorn of troops, materials and
munitions of war,--lacking everything that might allow of further
resistance--everyone thought that the war was finished, that the
defeat of France was consummated, and that resistance, even for a day,
would be absolutely impossible.

We were told at that time to “hold out” a little longer, to resist for
only a few weeks, in order to allow public opinion in Europe to awaken.
If Paris could defend herself, if she could only maintain herself a few
weeks, we were told, the impression in Europe would be immense, and
sympathy for us would revive. The provinces would have time to form an
army and to come to our rescue, and Europe would be able to raise her
voice in favour of an honourable peace.

Such was the language which official visitors to the Quai d’Orsay
daily uttered to our Minister for Foreign Affairs; and even if the
spirited population of Paris had not peremptorily demanded resistance,
communications from the Diplomatic Body, (I am not speaking of their
advice, for _that_ they could not give), would have imposed on the
National Defence Government the imperious duty of attempting a final
effort. And the effort _was_ attempted, and admirably maintained by
the heroic town. We were asked to “hold on,” and we did “hold on.”

The great city held out, and not only for some weeks. Nearly two months
had passed since the catastrophe of Sedan, two months employed in
organising resistance.

At the moment of which I am speaking, Paris had already undergone more
than fifty days of siege without weakening. Do I say without weakening?
On the contrary, the greater her privations, the greater became her
courage; the greater the wastage of her resources, the greater the
strength of her resistance. A whole arsenal had been improvised, a
redoubtable fortress had been created out of nothing. The ramparts,
which at the approach of the Prussians were bare of everything, had
been swiftly furnished with cannon, ammunition, and defenders; the
peaceable citizens had changed into soldiers, the workshops had become
factories for arms--in a word, this charming and beautiful town, the
city of wit and pleasure, was transformed into a vast armed camp
forming the centre of radiating sectors which united her closely with
the ramparts.

The spirit of war had breathed into men’s souls, and manly enthusiasm
reigned supreme; unshakable confidence inflamed the most timid minds
and filled them with courage. And with courage hope had entered
into all hearts, and faith had revived--the faith of soldiers, the
conviction of success. All men sincerely believed in it.

How could one admit that all these great endeavours, these generous
aspirations, all this sublime devotion should remain sterile, that the
intelligence and energy, in a word all the great and wonderful spirit
of a nation fighting for its life, should result in deception and

And would Europe, who was watching us and observing our efforts, remain
dumb? Would she shut herself up in selfish indifference, cross her
arms and assist as a careless spectator in the mutilation of France,
in the humiliation of a great people which had fought so much for
others and which was now struggling for existence? Would Europe allow
the dismemberment of a great-spirited country, so necessary to the
equilibrium and the very existence of Europe? Such a thing was not to
be thought of.

So it came about that, when we heard of considerable changes in the
public opinion of Europe, and when it was reported that the Powers,
astonished at our prodigious efforts, were not disinclined from joining
their activities to ours in order to arrive at the conclusion of an
honourable peace, we thought the news very plausible, and it found
ready credence.

And when M. Jules Favre, changing the purpose of the mission that he
wanted to entrust to me before, and which it is unnecessary I should
speak of here, asked me to undertake a journey to the Courts of Vienna
and London in order to try and interest these Powers more directly
in the struggle and to lead them into effective intervention on our
behalf, it was well worth the attempt, and I was proud to be its

Let me explain further.

When the unfortunate declaration of war was hurled into the midst of a
peaceable Europe sleeping in profound security, it provoked universal
stupefaction and disgust. Every state had reduced its contingents,
every parliament had terminated its labours, after casting a smiling
and satisfied glance at the complete tranquillity of the universe.
Every sovereign was making holiday, or reposing with gently closed
eyes in the most retired part of his princely residence. Every people
was intent on its affairs and preparing, in absolute security, for the
peaceful labours of the harvest. The entire universe was tasting the
sweets of a general peace and resting in a quietude threatened by no

The explosion of the “année terrible” crashed through all these
countries, awoke every parliament, stupified every sovereign, and
irritated every people. The world was disgusted by the nation which
had fired off the sacrilegious cannon and let loose the scourge of war
into the midst of a situation which was regarded as the Golden Age
of universal peace. It was France that had troubled this beneficent
peace. It was France that, without appreciable cause, had provoked the
frightful struggle. So much the worse for her if she succumbed to what
she had herself unchained without a thought for the general interests
of Europe.

Such was the opinion, the “state of soul,” as they say nowadays, of
Europe at the beginning of the war.

France was completely isolated, in the most distressing sense of the
word; that is to say, she not only had not a single ally, but not a
single sympathiser. All her neighbours, States, sovereigns, and people,
even her oldest friends, had turned from her as from a criminal who had
destroyed public happiness.

But when, after disasters without name and precedent in the glorious
history of France, the brave population sprang up again under defeat
like a steel blade, when after the war of regular armies there
commenced a new war of a people which would not surrender, but
insisted on remaining erect and fighting with the broken sword picked
up on the battlefield of its conquered armies, which insisted on
battling for the honour of life and the integrity of its sacred soil,
then her most obstinate enemies admired and saluted a resistance
unexampled in history, and contemplated with ever-growing interest the
struggle of a scarcely-armed people against the best trained, best led,
and most formidable armies which had ever invaded an enemy’s country.
France, which had yesterday been found guilty of commencing the war,
became in defeat the object of admiration and a living image of the
civic virtues; Europe recovered from her irritation and began with an
anxious eye to follow and to desire the end of an unequal duel.

We therefore had reason to hope that we might find in the great Powers,
not only the sympathy with which everyone had been inspired by our
resistance, but the firm desire to help us in our efforts at arriving
at the conclusion of an honourable peace.

Certainly I could not, and did not, hope to succeed in drawing either
England or Austria into a war against Prussia. I knew both countries
too well to abandon myself to such an illusion. But what we hoped for
with conviction, and what we had reason to hope for, was that the
European Powers, in the general interests of the future, would arrive
at an entente, and would associate themselves in an effort to obtain
from Prussia terms of peace less harsh than those which the latter had
proudly been announcing ever since the first days of her victories.

If Austria and England seriously desired this result, then Italy, that
beautiful kingdom for whose unity France had poured out the best of
her blood, could not withdraw from the union, and Russia, herself a
powerful and precious friend of the old King of Prussia, would be happy
to serve as mediator between the Powers thus united and Germany.

There was, in fact, reason to hope that the Powers would come to an
understanding with the object of speaking the language of reason to
Prussia and making her understand, with firmness and resolution, that
all Europe was interested in seeing this war terminated by a lasting
peace, whose conditions could be accepted without humiliation and
without the arrière pensée that a contract, accepted by France against
her will and under the force of necessity, might be torn up in time to
come. Such were my sincere hopes.

What really happened disappointed these hopes. But that does not prove
that we were wrong in conceiving and attempting the enterprise, and
there will certainly come a day[A]--perhaps not far distant--when
history will judge that European diplomacy then lost one of the most
propitious occasions for laying the foundations of a pacifist policy
and preparing the era of general disarmament. Already to-day this dream
might be realised, to the profit and happiness of all humanity. For if
France had not been mutilated, what obstacle would there now be to the
general disarmament of Europe?

    [A] NOTE:--M. Reitlinger’s volume was published in Paris in

       *       *       *       *       *

We had also received divers reports concerning Prussia’s allies.

Certain individuals, who claimed and believed themselves to be well
informed, carried rumours which were really very extraordinary to the
Hôtel de Ville. Bavaria and Wurtemburg, it was said, were tired of the
war, tired in particular of always seeing their soldiers in the front
rank, and ardently desirous of peace. One even went so far as to say
that South Germany was animated by great discontent against Prussia,
and that a breach was not far distant.

It really needed absolute ignorance of the true situation in Germany to
believe even for an instant such chimeras as these. It was certainly
true that in the month of July, 1870, neither Bavaria nor Wurtemburg
were enthusiastic for a war which the parliaments of these two
countries had only voted with difficulty. It is equally true that at
the beginning of the campaign, a single small advantage won over the
Prussians, even a swift march of the French army beyond the Rhine,
would have been sufficient to expose Prussia to the risk of being
isolated and left alone in her struggle with France. But the situation
had been completely changed since the prodigious and terrible successes
of the armies of M. de Moltke.

At the beginning France was feared, and there was no desire to embark
on a war whose issue was in doubt. So great was the anxiety, that the
Rhine provinces made hasty preparations for receiving the “_pantalons
rouges_.” It was already believed that France was on the threshold, and
it was feared that she would cross it from one day to the other. But
when it was seen that the French did not arrive, when the Prussians
crossed the Rhine and won victory after victory, then immense
enthusiasm, an unparalleled delirium, seized the whole of Germany,
and the people would have dethroned their kings and driven out their
ministers had there been a single one willing to separate himself from
the common cause of the German Fatherland’s sacred war against the
hereditary enemy.

It was indeed all Germany that was against us. And it required
absolute ignorance of her inclinations, of her tendencies, and of her
aspirations, to seriously believe that discord could still exist in
Germany after the unhoped-for successes of her armies.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was arranged that I was to leave at once.

In order to receive M. Jules Favre’s last instructions, the day before
my departure I went back to see him at the Hôtel de Ville, where the
National Defence Government sat every evening until a very late hour
of the night. That evening the Council sat till one in the morning. At
nine o’clock on the 28th of October my balloon was to leave the _Gare

       *       *       *       *       *

In the next chapter the reader will find a description of my journey;
it was adventurous enough in all conscience, but I have not allowed
the story of it to come before the necessary resumé of the political
situation and of the sentiments of Europe towards ourselves.

I cannot, however, resist a desire to describe a scene which I
witnessed en route, and which moved me to tears. The reader will excuse
me if I tell it here. He will not read it without emotion.

Early one morning, in the beautiful Norman countryside between Eu and
Dieppe, if I am not mistaken, we met a hundred or so young recruits on
the road, freshly enrolled for the terrible war. They were very lightly
clad, as if for a summer excursion to the country.

The biting morning wind whistled cruelly through their cotton trousers,
and I felt my teeth chatter with cold, but these brave Norman boys did
not feel the cold. They marched on gaily, singing the Marseillaise,
and when they passed our carriage they waved their felt hats in token
of gaiety, as if they were going to a fête, and, carried away by
enthusiasm, they cried, “_Vive la République! Vive la France!_”

A tear fell from my eye--one of those bitter tears that run silently
along one’s cheek, like the overflow of a great grief. I wiped my eyes
and whispered, “_E pur si muove._”

Such gaiety in the face of danger, such conviction, such sublime faith
in the midst of so many ruins! Is not this the fundamental strength
of the French character and its great superiority, in spite of the
proverbial fickleness with which it has been reproached since the time
of Cæsar? Is not this the secret of the immense resilience and strength
of our country?

“_E pur si muove!_” Yes, the cause of such a people could not be lost.
It must force fortune to smile and victory to return to its banners.

Everywhere I met the same enthusiasm and the same confidence in our
final success, and certainly, had it been within the bounds of human
possibility to repair the disasters of the terrible campaign, France
would have accomplished the miracle and would not have succumbed.

    “_Si Pergama dextra
    Defendi possent: etiam hac defense fuissent._”

But against physical impossibilities no struggle can succeed; all
strength exhausts itself, the strong will weakens, and patriotism,
courage and resistance to the last, every prodigy of flaming love for
one’s country, is impotent to effect the impossible--impotent to do
what is beyond human strength.

Many have criticised the desperate efforts of a people who refuse to
recognise that they are beaten, and do not acknowledge the evidence of
defeat; but these are precisely the efforts which, in spite of final
defeat, will be written in its history in letters of gold.

All the victories and glories, all the past grandeurs of the nation,
pale in the presence of the greatness, unique in history, of a
vanquished people which would not despair and would not surrender, a
people which, when its Government, its army, its generals, all had
foundered around it, alone remained upright to save its honour,
grasping in one hand its flag and in the other the hilt of its broken

       *       *       *       *       *

I was convinced, in the course of my journey across Europe, and
particularly by my welcome in Austria and England, that France, who
was detested at the beginning of the war for having suddenly lit such
a formidable fire, had reconquered general esteem by the energy she
showed in the midst of her disasters.

M. de Chaudordy, whom I saw at Tours, gave me much encouragement in the
interviews I had with him before leaving for Vienna. This gentleman
was in daily communication with the representatives of the Powers at
Tours and so was better able than we, who had been shut up in Paris, to
give an exact estimate of the opinion of Europe and the changes it had
undergone. He assured me that M. Jules Favre was right in telling me
that there was a considerable move in our favour in the sympathies of

He also, without abandoning himself to over-sanguine ideas, hoped
much from this change of opinion. He thought that the efforts which
I was about to make in the Cabinets of Vienna and London ought to be
attempted, and that they might very well produce satisfactory results.

Under these circumstances I was all impatience to leave and arrive at
Vienna, since, according to my instructions, the Austrian Government
was the first that I was to address. But before going to Vienna I
wanted to inform myself as to the situation in Germany, in order to be
able to speak with full _connaissance de cause_.

I left Tours in the first days of November, and directed my course
towards Germany.



Our departure from Paris was fixed for the 28th of October, at nine in
the morning.

It was a beautifully fresh and clear day. The sky was cloudless and the
sun sent its fairest rays over the earth, while an icy wind swept the
calm and deserted streets of the capital. In spite of the early hour
there were already many people standing round the balloon, which was
being inflated. Two or three hundred of the curious had come to watch
our departure.

When I arrived the balloon was filling slowly and pompously. It
was already beginning to leave the ground, little by little and
majestically, like a giant rising out of the earth.

Its formidable mass was soon entirely upright, and balanced and shifted
as if impatient to take flight.

Now it has mounted and floats in the wind over its little “nacelle” or
car, the latter still firmly attached to the ground to allow its cargo
to be loaded.

The car was packed with five or six mail-bags full of correspondence
and _depêches_--thousands of little letters, on the fine paper invented
during the Siege of Paris for the needs of a new correspondence service
through the clouds--rare and impatiently expected messages which
distributed to France outside the solace of a written line and a living
signal from the beloved ones shut up within the ramparts.

When all was loaded, it was the passengers’ turn. Before going up it
was necessary to know the direction of the wind. As all the east of
France was already invested, balloons could only leave with some chance
of safety if the wind blew towards the west.

This was the only precaution taken in despatching balloons, which
were left literally to the mercy of the winds. Our party had not
even a compass to indicate the direction we were taking, as if the
winds always remained the same and never changed, and as if it were
sufficient to know its direction at departure in order also to know
where we should arrive.

Our departure was accordingly preceded by a “ballon d’essai,” which was
let up in order to explore the air and show the direction of the wind.
The direction was a good one, and the wind propitious--_obstrictis
aliis, praeter Iapiga_.--The wind showed itself from the east, and the
little pioneer balloon went off gaily, promptly to disappear over the
western horizon. Then came a solemn voice: “_Messieurs les voyageurs
en ballon!_” I shall never forget that voice; I can hear it in my ears

_Messieurs les voyageurs, en ballon!_ A quick, last goodbye to one’s
friends, then up the little rope ladder which leads to the basket and a
last look back. A last handshake, and here we are, seated in our aerial
craft, bound for an unknown destination.

The unknown always contains an element of the fearsome, and without
being exactly anxious as regards the physical dangers of our journey,
we had a certain feeling of solemnity when the basket left the earth.
There were three passengers--M. Cassier, the Director of the French
pigeon-post--who had brought a number of his faithful messengers with
him; a sailor, who acted as an improvised aeronaut; and myself.

We all made ourselves as comfortable as possible on the little wicker
seats which were fitted inside the basket. There were two of these,
facing each other, and on each there was room for two persons. Piled up
at our feet at the bottom of the basket were the sacks of _depêches_
and letters, and the ballast. The anchor was firmly fastened to the
side of the basket, fastened even too firmly, and altogether too heavy
to be of use in case of accidents.

The whole thing might have weighed about a ton. As soon as we were
seated, the balloon began to tack about. Our departure was not effected
without difficulty. The balloon had to be guided so as to leave it a
free passage, in order that in its ascent it should not encounter and
demolish the roofs of the houses surrounding the open space of the
_Gare d’Orleans_. This was not an easy operation; it required time and
a certain amount of skill on the part of those who were holding on to
the balloon and watching its ascent, and who were only supposed to let
it entirely free when the basket had passed the tops of the houses.
These complicated manœuvres were long and gave us time to look around
us and think....

Suddenly we heard the sacramental words, “Let go.” The moment had

All hands simultaneously let go of the ropes and quickly cut the
moorings. The balloon was free, and mounted swiftly, turning round its
axis, great and majestic as an eagle in flight. “_Bon voyage_, bold
travellers, _bon voyage_!” shouted the crowd, and everybody waved their
hands, handkerchiefs, and hats. There were even flags floating gaily in
the breeze. It was a touching thing to see all these arms held out to
us, and sending us a last goodbye from the beloved earth which we were

It was a very short moment and passed like a flash. The balloon turned
on itself with dizzy swiftness. It went up, and up, and up, always

The _Gare d’Orleans_, the streets of Paris with their houses, the
monuments, the last lines of the city, the circle of fortifications,
the countryside with its fortresses, all appeared and disappeared with
maddening rapidity. The eye no longer saw and the intelligence ceased
in stupefaction, paralysed by this mad, gigantic dance, without purpose
and without end.

Where were we and where were we going? What was the meaning of this
continual turning? When would we stop and what would be the end of this
phenomenal journey?

The sun was radiant and the shadows were deep and clearly defined.
The wind whipped and hastened the spinning of our balloon. Contrasts
followed each other with such prodigious swiftness that it became
impossible to follow them. Sight and mind slid over this marvellous
ocean as if in a dream, no longer distinguishing shape or time or
space. Where were we? We did not know; one half-minute of the balloon’s
free course was enough to make us feel completely lost. If the balloon
had only proceeded in a straight line in the same way as any other
known craft, we should not have lost the bearing of our starting-point,
in spite of the swiftness of our progress; but the balloon twisted
ceaselessly and with terrible rapidity about its own axis. After a few
revolutions that were quicker than lightning, it was impossible to
recognise the direction in which we were going or to know our position.

Whither were we going? Left, right, south or north--it was impossible
to say.

A compass might have told us. But, as I have already said, our balloon
had no compass, a thing so necessary to every navigator. Our only
instrument was a little barometric scale which registered the height at
which the balloon was travelling. In addition the unfortunate sailor,
who was our improvised aeronaut and who was to direct our expedition,
had as much knowledge of the art of aerial navigation as an inhabitant
of the moon has of the mysteries of the Indian Brahmans. This will give
you an exact idea of the manner in which our journey was undertaken.
Our expedition went off, in a doubly true sense, at the mercy of chance
and the wind.



We were, however, all three very glad and proud of our journey. We were
in excellent spirits, and our hearts beat more rapidly at the thought
of doing something for the wonderful defence of the great besieged city
and of taking our share in the common effort.

We did not even think of danger, and not one of us would have stopped
to consider for a moment the defective equipment and slightly
precarious nature of our conveyance. We were entirely given up to our
enterprise and to the magnificent spectacle which rolled, renewing
itself every moment, before our astonished eyes. It mattered little to
us where we were or where we were going; we were at least sure of not
stopping on the way.

Suddenly our attention was awakened by a singular and characteristic
sound which struck our ears and informed us, in no uncertain manner,
of our whereabouts. We were crossing the lines of the besieging army,
and the latter were presenting their compliments by shooting at us with
rifles. But their bullets were unable to hit us. Though we heard them
whistling, that did not prevent the balloon from continuing its swift
course towards unassailable altitudes.

We soon rose out of the range of their marksmen, and the rifle fire
ceased as suddenly as it had begun. Our attention was then again drawn
to the wonders and surprises of our aerial voyage.

This is a thing I cannot describe, and even to-day, after the lapse
of twenty-eight years, I cannot find words to give any idea of the
prodigious spectacle ceaselessly rolling at our feet, or of the deep
and ineffacable impression which it produced on us. Only those who have
made the ascent of high mountains can realise feebly what is a journey
in the air at a height of two or three thousands yards.

Who is there who has not once in his life enjoyed that experience, who
does not know the imposing calm and the absolute silence that reign
over the eternal glaciers, the effect of which, in conjunction with the
immense panorama which these almost inaccessible heights unfold, is to
fill the spirit of the traveller with sublime admiration and a species
of poetic delirium? Well, the impression left on me by this aerial
journey far outstrips the fairy memories of mountain glaciers.

There was the same calm, the same absolute and grandiose silence, the
same majestic response, as if at the approach of the Divinity, but the
horizon was wider and the view more varied. The balloon floated on, and
the horizon changed every minute with the rapidity of its course. The
subdued tints of the far distance served as a sort of border to the
fresher and more accentuated colours of those tracts of country that
were nearer and bathed in light. Valleys and mountains followed each
other and mingled like the ever-renewed waves of the sea.

The waves of the sea are an exact comparison, for there was always
an immense ocean under our eyes, an ocean such as no mariner has
ever beheld. It comprised and blended together all things--plain and
mountain, earth and river, cities and countryside, meadows and forests.
Every possible contrast was linked together, every colour and every
tone stood out and was reflected, and on this great, glistening ocean
under a cloudless sky the gigantic shadow of the balloon travelled like
the image of some unknown spectre, striding across the universe.

I can find no further words, and think that no human speech is able to
describe the fascination of the amazing scene that sprang as it were
from an unknown world before our dazzled eyes.

As the balloon continued its course, sometimes slowly, as if cradled
by the zephyrs, and sometimes violently agitated by the breath of
the storm which was already threatening, we became accustomed to the
grandeur of the ceaselessly changing spectacle.

Once recovered from our amazement, it seemed to us natural to be thus
transported in an aerial vessel two thousand yards above our ordinary
habitations, and we tried to make ourselves as comfortable as we could
in the car. The air was fresh, and although the sun was veiled by no
trace of clouds, the temperature at these altitudes was very chilly.
Our first need, therefore, was to protect ourselves against the cold
and to cover ourselves from the icy atmosphere with everything we could
find. Our second preoccupation was hunger.

We had left Paris before nine in the morning. The fresh air had set
our blood in motion and awakened our appetites. At half-past ten the
crew of the “Vauban”--that was the name of the balloon--simultaneously
remarked, “Luncheon.”

No sooner said than done. We had not far to go to find the restaurant,
nor did our meal require great preparations.

We each drew out of our pockets the provisions we had brought, and
these provisions were by no means extravagant. At this period Paris was
already under rations as far as meat was concerned, and if my memory
serves me aright, I think that everyone in Paris had at that time the
right to four ounces of beef, whose only connection with that succulent
comestible was its name, given it under false pretences and in order to
deceive the palates of the Parisians.

But if our repast was modest and meagre, the wine which washed it down
was excellent and our appetites were first-rate.... Moreover, the view
from the balcony of our dining-room was enough to make us forget the
frugality of our repast and transform the simplest menu into a feast.
When we had finished eating and drinking we sent a telegram to M. Jules

A telegram from a balloon? Yes, a real telegram.

You have not forgotten that M. Cassier, Director of the French Pigeon
Post, was with me, and that he had brought a score of pigeons with him.
One of these graceful birds was charged with a message for M. Jules
Favre. I had promised to inform him as well as I could of the events
of our journey. The most hazardous part seemed to me to be already

This was far from being the case, as will be seen later, but that is
what I thought at the moment. We had been crossing the enemy’s lines
for a considerable time and our balloon had not ceased moving with very
great and noticeable rapidity and without changing its direction. We
therefore had reason to suppose that we were not far from those western
latitudes where we were to descend. This was the sense of my message.
I added a few notes on the regions we had traversed and the different
altitudes to which we had attained--for it is interesting to remark
that our balloon, without apparent reason, often rose to a height of
two thousand yards or more, and afterwards, again without reason, fell
to one hundred and fifty yards and less.

When I had finished my note, I rolled up tightly the square of paper
on which it had been written and tied it up. M. Cassier concealed the
little roll under the pigeon’s wings by skilfully attaching it to the
upper part of one of the bird’s legs. And then “_Bon voyage_ for Paris!”

It was curious to see the departure of our messenger. The little bird
seemed to share our own uncertainty as to the direction we were taking
and did not appear to know its bearings. But its embarrassment did not
last as long as ours: once it had left the balloon it flew two or three
times round it, always coming back on its traces as if to find out
where it was and seeking its route, and sheltering itself near us as
long as it felt uncertain. But suddenly it lifted its delicate little
head, gave a cry of joy, and flew off like an arrow in a straight line,
without deviating or looking to the left or right. It had found its way
and was going straight back to its nest in Paris.



This was the end of the peaceful part of our voyage and the prelude of
a new and more exciting phase.

The wind, whistling ceaselessly, finished by somewhere picking up a
few clouds which had been almost imperceptible in the four corners of
the horizon. The balloon’s course began to be less regular; sometimes
it jumped in a disquieting manner, and our barometer then showed
variations of one thousand yards in a few minutes. Once we were even so
near the earth that we were able to speak to peasants who were working
in the fields. We asked them to tell us where we were, and they seemed
to have understood our question, for they answered us, but we could not
catch their reply.

The excessive swiftness with which the balloon had passed prevented
us from understanding what they said. The sound of their voices only
reached us as the distant echo of human speech. Our ears only heard
inarticulate sounds whose meaning escaped us, so swiftly was the
distance increased which separated our question from their answer.

At another time the car floated majestically over an immense plain
which filled the horizon and stretched as far as the eye could see.
Then it was I wanted to effect our descent. I said so to our aeronaut,
and asked him to open the valve and let the gas escape slowly, so as to
allow our balloon to sink gently to the ground.

The plain which was unfolded before our eyes seemed to me created
expressly for a successful landing. Here we could descend without
fearing any of those terrible accidents which threatened every descent
on less propitious ground. For a balloon does not always stop when it
reaches the earth; it often drags its car and knocks it with terrible
rage against obstacles, as we ourselves were destined to see.

Nothing of the kind was to be feared here. The balloon might graze the
earth and drag the car along the ground as much as it liked without
any great danger to ourselves. It was bound to end at any moment by
literally expiring, without crushing its passengers in its agony. But
it was fated that we were to continue our journey and descend later on
in a less peaceable manner.

The sailor certainly made an excellent soldier, as did all the brave
seamen who had pluckily done their duty in the Siege of Paris; but as
an aeronaut he was mediocre. He took no account of anything, neither
the direction we had followed, nor the swift speed of our passage, nor
the distance we must have traversed since our start from Paris. He
said: “If you give orders to come down, I will open the valve. I will
do so to obey orders, but may I take the liberty of saying that we have
not yet gone very far. We shall fall into the enemy’s lines, and once
the valve is open we shall not be able to go up again.” I was not of
this opinion; I considered that we must be very far from Paris and that
this plain must be one of the fertile plains of Normandy, which extend
from the banks of the Seine to the sea. We had been travelling for more
than two hours with a powerful east wind and had moved with almost
painful speed the whole time. Unless one supposed that the balloon had
changed its direction on the way, which was by no means probable as the
wind had not changed at all, it was easy to estimate the distance which
we must have traversed.

It was sufficient to watch the shadow of the balloon gliding at express
speed over the distant earth.

If the course of this immense phantom appeared very rapid to us at a
height of one thousand or one thousand five hundred yards, what must
have been the real speed of the balloon itself, which projected such a
rapid shadow into the distance!

I imparted this reflection to our pilot, but he was insensible to my
arguments and would not listen. He shook his head in doubt, and without
consenting to discuss my reasons, repeated: “If you give the order, I
will obey; but I think it will be better to wait.”

I finally gave way and consented to wait. After all, I said to myself,
we were not badly off in the air, and it was always better to be a
little longer up there than to come down too quickly and fall into the
hands of the enemy.

So we continued our journey.

It was a mistake, an irreparable mistake, one which came near costing
us dear.

From that moment the weather suddenly changed, and a quarter of an hour
later all hope of ending our journey peaceably by a regular descent was
completely lost.

The horizon, which up till now had been clear and radiant, began to
take on a disquietingly sombre tint. Mists arose. We could not see
where they came from, but they came, interminably rolling and surging
and thickening more and more; a tempest was forming around us. It was
a strange scene, at once beautiful and terrible, and its very horror
so contributed to its beauty that I forgot for the moment that we were
ourselves about to play a part in the drama.



I will try and set down what I saw. The balloon was above the tempest
that was forming; the storm was in preparation, so to speak, under our
eyes. The sky above our heads did not change in aspect, but remained
placid and transparently blue.

We were therefore floating over the clouds, with a full view of the
storm beneath us and the unclouded sun above us.

It was a dazzling contrast; over our heads was the golden and intense
brilliance of an unclouded blue sky, the transparent azure of pure
air inundated with light, and under our feet lay deep and changeable
night--a black, weltering mass of uneasy chaos, that seemed as if set
in motion by the hands of giants; a nameless thing without a form or
colour that rolled and eddied and swarmed--the _Tohu-bohu_ of Genesis.

It might have been an army of Titans whipping and tormenting the
clouds, that were piled up and shattered on one another, and again
piled up and shattered endlessly.

And over this feverish chaos we heard the rumble of thunder, while
the violent and icy wind drove the clouds as a wolf does the sheep
when it falls upon a flock. Our poor balloon, though it was great and
heavy, carrying, as I have said, not less than a ton, was as light as
a feather on the wings of the hurricane. It danced madly up and down,
shaken and tossed about like a fragile skiff. So we rolled over this
stormy sea without compass or rudder, fascinated by the grandeur and
the strangeness of the sight.

How long were we in the storm?

I cannot say; but suddenly the aeronaut cried, “Monsieur, we are
sinking!” And the balloon, without showing any breakage to explain such
an accident, sank rapidly, or rather dropped perpendicularly, like a

We were then still above the clouds, which were shedding torrents of
rain on to the earth, and it was impossible for us to see through the
thick night which lay cold and damp under our feet. We tried in vain to
find our bearings and to guess how or where the balloon would strand
us. Would we be cast on terra firma or into the sea; on mountains or on
to the trees of a forest?

It was a critical moment.

Lighten the balloon, quickly! And in a moment we were all occupied
in lifting our ballast--big sacks of sand--out of the hold, and the
inhabitants of the country over which we were passing must have been
astonished at seeing a sudden rain of gravel mixed with the showers of
water which were drowning the countryside.

But we could not deal quickly enough with the ballast, and the balloon
continued to sink. It descended with a rapidity that made us shudder
and drove us to work with feverish activity. We heaved over the sacks
of ballast as briskly as real sailors who have done nothing else all
their lives. Each of us laboured at our task, and the sand fell like

Suddenly the daylight disappeared and darkness enveloped us. We were
inundated by a cold, intense fog and pierced to the skin by icy
dampness. We were running through a veritable aerial tunnel, to use a
permissible metaphor. The clouds which the storm had just before been
rolling at our feet were now all round our balloon and us. When the
balloon had passed through them, dripping with rain and frost, I saw
with amazement that we were just above an immense wood which pointed
its spikes at us like so many threatening spears. We were inevitably
about to land in the middle of this wood and in the branches of its

I remained standing in order to see better, but what I saw was
terrifying. A thick and endless forest extended under our eyes, showing
thousands of branches like so many terrible defences ready to tear us.
Nowhere was there a clearing which might give us hope.

The balloon continued falling, in spite of its being lightened, with
all the speed of its enormous weight. I could not help looking, like a
man who cannot help himself and who sees himself being hurled into an
inevitable abyss.

“If we could only pass the wood!” I had scarcely uttered these words
when a terrible noise was heard. We were shaken by a frightful shock,
which seemed as if it would dislocate all our limbs. The car was thrown
among the trees and bounded against them, breaking them into small
fragments. It was a terrible fall, but when it came to the point and I
felt the first signs of the end I gave a sigh of relief. “This is it,
at last--this is the end!” The unknown, which one fears and trembles at
and cannot avoid, is always more terrible than the reality, once one
has seen the latter face to face.

But all, unfortunately, was not yet over, and still greater and more
violent turns of fortune were to await us. The car alone had crashed
against the trees, breaking them with the violence of the shock, but
the balloon still floated intact over the basket, presenting its whole
volume to the wind. It dragged us with terrific force over the trees,
which broke under the shock and at the same time held back the car
entangled in the broken and twisted branches.

It was a terrible conflict! The balloon tried to rise, but the trees
held us back and the car was dragged over the trees, bounding,
smashing, and annihilating everything it met in its frantic course.



The danger was here, and our position seemed absolutely desperate.
Death is not the most fearful thing in the destinies of man. It was
when we first embarked on the “Vauban” that we offered the sacrifice
of our lives, knowing perfectly well that we were exposing ourselves
to the danger of falling on the road. We had, therefore, foreseen the
possibility of death; but to die torn by a blind force, to be dragged
over trees and not to know if the branches will first wrench off your
head or your arms, is a thing more painful than death. And there was no
physical power nor intelligence--no means whatever which might save us.
We had nothing to fall back on, absolutely nothing but hazard, as blind
as the force which was playing with our existence. The situation caused
a strange thing to happen in my imagination, which I have never been
able to explain and which I should like at this point to describe.

For a few moments I had a sort of vision. There is nothing
extraordinary in this. It can be easily explained. But what I at least
find more difficult to explain and what up till now I have never been
able to understand is that I was at the same time absolutely and
entirely master of myself, in full control of my intelligence, my will,
and my self-command. I felt the vision, knowing that it was a vision,
as an interested observer of an extraordinary phenomenon.

This is what I saw:--

I was back in my birthplace, in my father’s house. The big parlour was
lit up as if for some festival. The room was full of people; all my
family, as well as my boyhood’s friends and companions, were around me.

My mother was among them, beautiful but pale, and she kissed me and
cried. My dear father, who has since left us and now rests in eternity,
my little sister, my brothers, and everyone, thronged round me and I
said good-bye to them.

It was dark outside, but the big chandelier shed its light on this
numerous concourse. They were all in holiday attire, but it was a
silent festival and the only voice was the caressing one of my mother,
who said to me: “Don’t leave me yet.”... “No, Mother.” And then the
vision vanished.

If I had not the most indisputable proof that at the moment when I had
this vision I was absolutely cool and in control of my faculties, there
would be nothing extraordinary in this and it might be easily explained
by my nervous state and by the fatigue and over-excitement of the

But I looked at the vision simply as a vision, taking my part in it,
but knowing at the same time that it was a chimera and that I was
perfectly calm and self-controlled. My intelligence and my powers of
comprehension were absolutely lucid, and here is the proof:--

From the moment that I saw the first impact of the car against the
trees threatening, I thought of a plan for protecting myself, which
both argued that my wits were at work and required presence of mind.

Anyone who has seen a balloon will know that between the gas-bag and
the car there is a solid ring of wood to one side of which the gas-bag
is attached, the other side supporting the car. This wooden ring is
called the “crown” and is between the balloon and the basket, which are
both strongly roped to it.

Now the crown, by reason of its being between the two rope attachments,
is the best place of refuge from a crash which must necessarily be
considerably broken after being transmitted over the ropes to the
crown, particularly as the latter is a considerable distance from the
car. In order to reach it one has to get up on the seat and hoist
oneself along the ropes from the edge of the basket to the crown, which
is several metres distant.

As soon as I saw that there was no more hope of maintaining ourselves
in the air and that our car was inevitably bound to crash against the
summits of the trees, I jumped on the seat and climbed up to the crown.

The formation of this plan and its rapid execution in the exact moment
of danger was sufficient proof of my presence of mind at the moment of
our fall and of the vision which accompanied it. I even remember that
I laughed at a remark, which really was laughable, of my companions in

When they saw me climb on to the seat, and from there to the side of
the basket, in order to swarm up the ropes to the crown, they asked
me in all seriousness if I was going to get out. The question made me
laugh. There was really something comical in the contrast between our
situation and my friend’s question. To get out of a balloon in motion
which is about to fall upon the spiked branches of a forest! They had
asked me seriously, and with a certain amount of anxiety: “Are you
going to get out?...” “No,” said I, and laughed. “Where do you want me
to go?” It was at that moment that I saw my vision.

But to go back to our descent. The balloon, which thus dragged us over
the trees, had kept all its power, for it was still filled with gas,
and might drag us a long time yet.

What could we do? Opening the valve would by no means have stopped it,
as it would have taken too much time and the gas would not have escaped
quickly enough. We therefore decided to cut the ropes which bound the
car to the crown in order to separate it from the infuriated balloon.

The good sailor took out his trusty axe, but scarcely had he given the
first cut when the balloon succeeded in disengaging the basket from the
branches which held it back and impeded its course. It then recommenced
its flight, rising like an eagle towards higher regions.

We were stupified. So we were to have a new journey and fresh

Fortunately it was not one of long duration. The wind and the rain
whipped the balloon from all sides and prevented it from regaining
its original vigour and mounting higher. Then a last struggle engaged
between the balloon and the storm, which had continued raging. The
balloon, once free, tried to rise, but was held back by the extreme
violence of the tempest. In its struggles it leapt and bounded, making
us fear at any moment that the basket would upset and precipitate
its contents pell-mell into space. Twice a squall threw us to the
ground--that is to say, into the trees--and twice the unexhausted
strength of the balloon snatched us from their branches. A third, more
violent, gust enveloped the balloon entirely, bent it to the ground
in front of the car, and hurled it against a large and magnificent
oak--which I can see to-day before my eyes. We were in safety--the
balloon gave the expiring yell of a strong fabric torn by violent
explosion. It burst, rent along its side, and hung in a thousand
enormous rags against the ancient branches of the great oak which had
destroyed it.

We were at once enveloped by clouds of gas escaping from the
disembowelled balloon. In a moment all was over. The car had stopped
and we were safe. My watch pointed to one o’clock when I jumped down
from the tree.

But in what part of the country were we? Whose was the wood which
protected us? Should we meet Frenchmen or had we fallen into the
enemy’s country? That old navigator Ulysses, when he walked on the
beach of Ithaca, was not more ignorant of his fate than we when we left
our car in the branches of the trees in which it remained captive.



As a rule I am bad at topography, and do not easily find my way in
places that I see for the first time. But my faculties had been made
keen by danger during our aerial voyage and my sustained attention
remembered everything that my eyes had seen.

The second time the balloon rose above the forest I had, from my
elevated perch, observed a fairly broad path across the wood, which
looked as if it might lead to some neighbouring village. I kept this
path in my memory and, while our balloon was engaged in its last
struggle, I tried to take note of our movements in order not to lose
the direction of this path. So much so that, when at last we touched
the ground, I was able to find it.

I left my companions to watch near the wrecked balloon and bent my
steps to the left in order to find the way.

I had not been mistaken. After walking for scarcely ten minutes, I
found the path I was looking for. Happy at my discovery, I was about to
return through the wood to tell my companions, when I saw a man leave
the thicket on the other side of the road and come towards me.

What manner of man was this, and what did he want with me? What
singular chance had driven him to this wood in such weather?

It was still raining in torrents. Instead of returning through the
undergrowth, as I had intended, to find my fellow-travellers, I made
as if I were looking for shelter from the rain, and stood with my back
against a tree.

In this position I could wait for the unknown to come up, and could
examine him while he crossed the road to reach me.

He at once came forward. He was well dressed and had the appearance of
a man of means. He looked neither like a peasant nor like a dweller
in large towns, and it was difficult to guess exactly what kind of
individual I had to deal with. He seemed, however, to be looking for
me, for he walked directly towards me and crossed the path, bearing
towards the point where I was standing.

What was this man, friend or enemy? What could I say to him, and how
should I speak to him, in French or in German?

I thought it would be best not to say anything and to wait till he
addressed me. “Bon jour, Monsieur,” said he, on coming up. I returned
his greeting.

“Have you been here long?” he asked me.


“Where have you come from?” he continued.

I began to be reassured and noticed that my unknown spoke with the
Alsatian accent. But the Alsatian accent is very similar to the German,
and was not Alsace entirely occupied by the enemy?

Such were my thoughts on hearing him, and instead of answering his
question, I asked him point-blank, “Are you French, Monsieur?” And as
I asked I looked him well in the face and did not take my eyes from
his, trying to read into his soul. “Oui, Monsieur,” was his answer, and
the “Oui, Monsieur” was pronounced simply and with a frankness that
concealed nothing and invited confidence.

I felt he had spoken the truth. I held out my hand and said: “Well,
Monsieur, I am also a Frenchman. We have come from Paris and our
balloon has just come down in this forest....”

“Oh, is that you! Good God, what sufferings you must have undergone! I
have watched you battling with the storm for at least half an hour. My
friends and I came out to beat the forest in order to find you and help
you, for we foresaw a catastrophe.”

I was profoundly touched, and heartily wrung his hand....

“But where are we?”

“At Vigneulles in the Meuse; this is the wood of Vigneulles, the
village is three kilometres away, and behind the wood, a league from
here, are the Prussians. They came into the village yesterday morning.”
After saying this he gave a signal by whistling in a particular
manner, and I at once saw ten or twelve peasants running up from
different part of the wood. He explained our situation to them and gave
them orders. While they went off to find my companions and the débris
of the balloon, I followed my new guide towards the village in order
to lose no time in preparing a way to leave the district as quickly as

My mentor took me to the Mairie, a little house in the village,
comprising the offices and the personal residence of the Mayor, the
latter on the first-floor.

The behaviour of this village worthy was in singular contrast with
that of the brave man who had brought me to him. He trembled when he
heard that Frenchmen, coming from Paris, and recently descended from a
balloon, were there, and he asked himself whether he could and ought
for a single moment to shelter them. “If the Prussians hear that I have
received them I am lost....”

I will pass quickly over the painful scene which followed. The poor man
is since dead, and I only speak of the incident in order to show that
the devoted efforts of our guide to carry us to the Belgian frontier
were not without risk to himself. His name is Julien Thiébeaux; he
was at that time employed in the Excise Department and has since been
promoted to a Collectorship. He was a brave man and a good citizen.

When he saw the Mayor’s disposition towards ourselves, he said to me:
“You can’t remain here, Monsieur, as the Prussians are encamped close
at hand. They were here yesterday and may be here again to-morrow. They
may come at any moment, even while we are speaking. I wanted to let
the Mayor have the honour of saving you, and for that reason have said
nothing; but the time has now come to act. Will you trust yourselves to

I looked at the speaker and fixed my eyes on him a second time, trying
to penetrate and read his secret thoughts from his countenance. He will
pardon me for this last trace of suspicion, as will those who read
these lines; it was not unnatural.

We were in the midst of a Prussian encampment, and the Mayor of the
village had shown his sentiments in most unambiguous fashion; he had
not the slightest desire to risk his neck in order to save some unknown
men, who had been wrong-headed enough, according to him, to cross the
Prussian lines in a balloon, and to drop exactly into his unfortunate
village, which had all the best reasons in the world to live on good
terms with the enemy’s army.... And then appears a simple villager,
the first-comer as it were, and one who has no reason to interfere in
a nasty business which does not concern him, and offers his services
spontaneously and light-heartedly without being asked by anyone, in
order to save three unknown men from under the Prussians’ noses! By
doing so he was exposing himself, when he returned from his expedition
on the morrow, to a reward at the hands of the enemy whose nature could
not be doubted.

Such were the thoughts in my mind while M. Thiébeaux explained how
urgent it was that we should leave, and offered to conduct us to the
frontier through the Prussian army.

So I again inspected M. Thiébeaux, and not without suspicion.

But the more I looked at him the further did suspicion fly from my
mind. He had a frank and honest eye and a simple and natural attitude.
Such clear signs of sincerity and loyalty emanated from his whole
person that my doubts ceased, and I felt remorse at having for a single
moment suspected the sincerity of his devotion.

He had finished his little speech by asking the simple question, “Will
you trust yourselves to me?” I held out my hand, and said, “Shake, M.
Thiébeaux, and let us start.”

“But I do not want to start alone,” he said. “I have a friend who knows
the way better than I, and we shall have need of him. I will answer for
him. May I bring him with me?”

A little later my companions and I were seated with our brave guides in
a little country carriage and making for the Belgian frontier.

Vigneulles is in the Meuse, at the entrance to the great plain which
is known as the “Grande Woëvre.” This was the scene of the memorable
battles of the 16th and 18th of August, 1870, the battles which are
called Mars-la-Tour, Rezonville, Gravelotte and Saint-Privat.[B]
The little village lies between Verdun and Metz, and is about forty
kilometres distant from the latter.

    [B] NOTE:--It is also the scene of very serious fighting at the
        present moment (Feb., 1915). Vigneulles is a few miles from
        the German position at St. Mihiel.

This enabled us to calculate the path we must have taken in our balloon.

The distance from Paris to Metz is about four hundred kilometres, but
our balloon did not take a direct course. During the first part of our
journey we went persistently in an opposite direction--that is to say,
towards the west of France--and it was only when the storm commenced,
which was about 11 o’clock in the morning, that the wind must have
shifted and carried us towards the east.

It was not yet 11 o’clock when I had expressed a desire to come down
on the great plain which offered us such an immense and propitious
terrain for coming to earth. The wind had at that time not yet changed,
and we could hope to come down in the fertile plains of Normandy or
possibly in the direction of Brittany. Our aeronaut did not share my
point of view, and we continued our journey. It was only then, after
two hours navigation, that the weather changed. So it is evident that
the balloon must have traversed at least twice the distance between
Paris and Metz, since it had travelled for two hours at full speed
in an opposite direction. The whole journey had been carried out in
the space of four hours--from nine in the morning till one in the
afternoon. That represented an amazing speed: two or three hundred
kilometres an hour.

And now for the Belgian frontier!



The distance we now had to go was very much shorter, but it was also
more difficult, and we only arrived at the frontier the next morning,
between ten and eleven. Had it not been for the intelligence and
devotion of M. Thiébeaux and his friend M. Charles Jeannot, we should
not have arrived at all.

It was a long, slow and painful journey, a regular Odyssey, across
country entirely occupied by the enemy.

It is not my purpose in this short narrative to tell of its events
and adventures ... that would take us too far and would only serve
to revive sad memories. I only refer to it in token of gratitude to
our courageous guides who carried us by night under a drenching rain
through the lines of the army of occupation with no less intelligence
than courage and presence of mind. It is clear that the Germans saw our
balloon as well as M. Thiébeaux and his friends, and they at once set
out to capture it. Fortunately for ourselves the forest and the rain
prevented their following our movements and taking exact note of the
place where we had come down.

At midnight we met some of M. Thiébeaux’ friends on the road, returning
from a neighbouring fair. “Anything new?” asked our guide.

“Yes, a balloon has come from Paris. There were three or four persons
in it, and the Uhlans are after them.”

“In which direction have they gone?”

“I believe they are pursuing them in the direction of Verdun.”

“Are there any Prussians in the neighbourhood of...?”

“No, they are at ... to-day.”


Our carriage again moved off, while M. Thiébeaux’ friends began to
interrogate us as to whether there was anything new on our side. The
place where the Uhlans were hoping to catch us was in exactly the
opposite direction to the way we were now going, and M. Thiébeaux
rubbed his hands with pleasure at the knowledge that they were on a
false scent.

At eight in the morning we arrived at Montmédy.

There we learnt the sad news of the surrender of Metz.

We were not far from the frontier, and crossed it an hour later,
subsequently arriving at Virton, a little Belgian town which was
swarming with French. Here we said good-bye to M. Thiébeaux and his
friend M. Jeannot and took the first diligence for the nearest station
on the Luxemburg railway, by which we arrived at ten or eleven at night
at Brussels.

If I were to let myself be carried away by my memories, I would here
throw a sidelight on the remarkable but saddening aspect of the Belgian
capital, which was the temporary home of so many Frenchmen and the seat
of so many diverse and conflicting passions, hopes, and fears. But what
would be the use? I will say no more than that the city of Brussels
was crowded with people. It was full of Frenchmen and particularly
Parisians. The faces of the stout Flemish burghers were bright and
radiant and broader than usual; they were delighted with the golden
flow of business, but, none the less, had no love for the French who
brought them all this gold.

The Belgian capital, which I had often before visited and which had
always charmed me by its beauty and elegance, then seemed to me ugly
and hateful, and I only stayed there for as long as was absolutely
necessary to get things in order for my departure.



Before leaving for Austria, I had to go to Tours, where the Delegates
of the National Defence Government were at this time sitting.

I had therefore to go back to France, and could only do so by going a
long way round. Part of the north was already occupied. The trains no
longer went regularly, and in order to get from Brussels to Tours I had
to slip through a great many obstacles and often leave the railway and
have recourse to carriages. There was no lack of episodes on the road,
but they were not gay ones and I prefer not to speak about them. The
country was in a fever and disorganised, and to a large extent occupied
and ruined. Where the enemy had not yet come they were expected, and
the days were anxiously counted which were to bring the first Uhlans.

“Spies” were suspected everywhere, just as in Paris, where I saw a
crowd gather one night before a house in the Boulevard Montmartre, and
where a cruel injustice would that night have been committed if the
police had not intervened in time to clear up the mistake.

There was a light in an attic on the sixth floor. It was only a poor
woman at work, but she was accused of signalling with her little lamp
from the height of her attic to the Prussians who were besieging Paris.
The latter were at least fifteen or twenty miles from the boulevard,
even where their siege-works had approached our ramparts. So it was
simply ridiculous to suppose that signals could have been given to
the Prussians from a window in the boulevard. The feeble little light
on the sixth floor, however, was quite enough to make the passer-by
believe that there was a spy up there communicating with the enemy and
signalling messages to him. That is the kind of spy mania which was
responsible for yielding me an amusing quarter of an hour when I least
expected it.

The event took place at Dieppe. This peaceable and innocent little
seaside town, well known to all Parisians, certainly had no reason
to attract the attention of M. de Moltke and his generals, but it
was there that I was nearly arrested as a vile spy, by order of the
sous-préfet, who no doubt smelt out an ingenious plan on the part of
the Prussian Field-Marshal for taking this important fortress without a

I had just arrived in a carriage from Eu, and had come to Dieppe to
take the train there.

I was waiting for the time when the train was to start, and had gone to
the hotel for lunch in company with the persons who had come with me,
or rather, who had brought me in their carriage, very kindly putting
it at my disposal because for the moment there was no other means of
communication between Eu and Dieppe.

I had scarcely sat down to table when the proprietor came up with a
thousand bows and stammered excuses and told me that there was someone
there ... someone who ... a gentleman who ... in a word that there was
someone who wanted to speak to me.

Someone to speak to me at nine in the morning; me, an unknown, a
stranger from a distance, who had passed the night on the road and
had only just arrived in the place! It seemed a curious demand and I
foresaw mystery. “Let him come in,” I said to the proprietor, smiling,
for I could not help being amused at his grave and embarrassed manner.

The dining-room opened on to a large, dark corridor which had not been
lit up and in which it was difficult to distinguish what was happening.
My host rushed into the corridor and disappeared in the darkness.

There was a moment of deep silence, then hasty footsteps and a confused
noise; I vaguely saw an ill-defined movement, the gleam of weapons,
arms waving in the thick of the darkness, advancing footsteps! At last
a figure appeared out of the background and drew near; then a mad burst
of laughter and these words: “Is that you, Reitlinger? What a joke!”
And when the speaker came out waving his long arms, from the dark
corridor where he was standing with his armed men, I recognised an old
friend: it was one of the most charming sub-prefects in the provinces,
one who was the ornament of the “parquet” at Dieppe and whom I had
known when he was studying in Paris. He sat down at my table and told
me that he had come purely and simply in order to lock up my dangerous
person and prevent me from doing a hurt to the National Defence!

The supreme authorities of Dieppe had been informed that the Secretary
of the Government was at the hotel. The sous-préfet had pricked up
his ears at this report, shrugged his shoulders, shaken his head and
considered, incredulity in his soul! The Secretary of the Government?
... an invention, a clumsy imposture! Was the Government not at Paris?
Was not Paris besieged by the Prussians? Would not the Prussians have
intercepted this Secretary?

That is not the way to humbug authorities who watch over the town and
district with a vigilant and circumspect eye!

This Secretary is simply a spy and he covers himself with the name of
the Government the better to hide his schemes, the better to betray the
poor town of Dieppe, and carry away the plans of its fortifications
with greater security. Let us put him under lock and key.

The “parquet” had been hastily assembled, and the “parquet,” full of
admiration for the perspicacity of the sous-préfet, had ordered out
its _posse_, while the latter promptly headed the expedition to assure
himself of my person. My sous-préfet was the first to laugh at this
deployment of armed force and his own haste in taking part in such an

“Now that the security of our country permits it,” said he, “I will
send back my braves and we will drink to the success of your mission.”

This was excellent, but I asked myself what would have happened if
the task of arresting me had been entrusted to one who did not happen
to know me personally. Would M. le Sous-Préfet have kept me under
lock and key, or would I have been obliged to show him the Minister’s
confidential letters accrediting me for my mission?



My first stopping-place was the Grand Duchy of Baden, then Wurtemburg
and, finally, Bavaria. I was everywhere able to confirm that our
Government had received untrue reports and even untruer interpretations
with regard to these countries.

It was true that everyone was weary of the war and the sacrifices of
men and money which the country was making; everyone deplored the
complete stoppage of industry and commerce, and the misery which
was its consequence, and everyone ardently desired the end of these
sufferings and the rapid, the immediate conclusion of peace.

But on what conditions?

Did it mean that this ardently desired peace would be accepted on any
conditions and at any price?

On this capital point people in France had the fondest illusions, and
found themselves most completely mistaken.

Yes, they wanted peace, but they wanted it at the price of a good
ransom which would permit the German Government to indemnify all those
who had suffered damage either directly or indirectly from the war.
Nor was that all. Besides a money indemnity, all were unanimous in
demanding as “guarantees for the future” the cession of Alsace and

That is the manner of peace they wanted, and if all Germany was tired
of the war and desired its ending, all Germany considered it a crime on
the part of France not to consent and not to understand that the hour
had struck for her to surrender at discretion.

People were exasperated with France for prolonging a hopeless struggle
and by her obstinacy preventing a conclusion of peace for which the
world had an immense need. In such a sense as this Germany was tired
of the war, and had it been necessary to send even more soldiers to
augment the million combatants already on French soil, had it been
necessary to raise and again raise new levies in order to arrive at
the goal, all Germany without exception--north, south, east, and
west--would have given its last man capable of bearing arms.

I will even go further. Supposing for a moment--such a supposition
has no kind of foundation, but suppose for a single moment--that if
Prussia or one or other of her allies had desired the end of the war
under conditions that were easier for France, and supposing they had
attempted to establish this view in the United Council of Ministers,
public opinion would have swiftly reduced such a proposition to
silence. The first Government to have attempted an enterprise of
such a nature would have immediately been overturned by the general
indignation of the whole people, who would have risen against it as a
single man.

A king or prince liberal enough to have proposed such a peace would
have been driven out as a traitor to his country, and as unworthy to
sit henceforward on the throne of his august ancestors.

M. de Bismarck knew his people well, and expressed an indisputable
truth when he told M. Jules Favre, at the interview of Ferrières, that
the King himself could not conclude peace without the cession of Alsace
and Lorraine.

This feeling, far from being weakened since that time, had only been
increased and strengthened. The longer the war lasted, and the greater
the sacrifices that it imposed, the greater and the stronger also grew
the general opinion of Germany that peace must be concluded solely in
return for, over and above a large ransom, the cession of these two
provinces, Alsace and Lorraine, which were regarded as German, and,
above all, as a necessary rampart against France.

Here and there, of course, scattered and lost among the crowd, there
were a few philosophers whose dreams were in more elevated spheres
and who did not wish to admit the right to annex a country by the
brutal path of arms and conquest, at any rate without consulting its
population.... But who would listen to them? Who took them seriously?
They were regarded as Idealists, only to be laughed at; they were
accused of madness, and if they had really been thought to be of sound
mind, they could not have failed to be treated as traitors to their

I spoke with many individuals between the Rhine and the Danube,
but I never met anyone who would have consented to a peace
without territorial gains. Even those whom I had formerly known
as “Liberalists” and belonging to the “Republican Party” were no
exception, and energetically insisted on annexation. The fact is
that the situation had changed since the month of July of the “année
terrible.” At the beginning of the war--as I have already remarked--a
good part of Prussia’s allies were lukewarm enough, but later on
enthusiasm had become general.

I was told an incident which seems characteristic. I will cite it as I
heard it, without comment and without guaranteeing its authenticity.
The King of X., who did not love the new régime, who suffered cruelly
from it in his own capital and who did not wish to let his authority
over his own army be taken away from him, was ready to cry with
vexation when he was asked for the last reinforcements to be despatched
to the theatre of war. He would like to have refused them, but dared
not do so. Shutting himself up in his palace, he refused to see his
troops at their departure defiling with music across the public square
in front of his palace.

       *       *       *       *       *

But the whole of Germany had become drunk with the unheard-of,
unhoped-for success of its arms, and this success exalted the different
populations all the more that it had been greater than they had dared
to hope for when the war began.

Up to that time France had been a formidable and much-feared power.
The “_Rothosen_,” or “Red Breeches,” were regarded beyond the Rhine as
invincible soldiers. At the news of the declaration of war, the various
peoples were at first in great anxiety; everyone expected to see the
French arrive from one day to the other.

If at that moment, I repeat, we had pushed vigorously forward instead
of groping about and letting the enemy have time to concentrate his
troops, take the initiative, and throw his soldiers in his turn on to
our soil, the war would perhaps have taken another complexion, in spite
of the wonderfully prepared plans of M. de Moltke.

A swift march to the Rhine, a vigorous advance beyond the frontier,
carrying our arms beyond the river into the midst of German soil, would
have produced an immense impression, and would have thrown doubt and
hesitation among the allies of Prussia. Perhaps the whole campaign
might have turned in favour of France.

I have no intention of here trespassing on military ground, where even
those more competent than I are not always in agreement. But I can
certainly bear witness, for it is the exact truth, that the anxiety of
all sections of the German population was great, and that, when the
news of the first victories arrived, one could not believe them, but
rather considered them as miracles and attributed them to the Divine
Justice which wished to punish “impious” France, the hereditary enemy
of Germany, for having forced a quarrel on her and having without
serious reason begun this terrible war. Once the first victories were
won, there was no limit to the rejoicings, and as success increased and
was accentuated, when one battle after the other was won and the German
armies advanced in numbers and irresistibly on to French territory,
this immense, matchless, and unprecedented victory produced an equally
immense change in public opinion. What, was France letting herself
thus be beaten? France, who had set the ball rolling, France, who had
menaced the security of Germany for a century and who would always
menace it, if Germany did not profit by the opportunity and take her

And so, from the depths of the German mind, the idea had arisen which
M. de Bismarck expressed so vigorously and insistently to M. Jules
Favre in the interview at Ferrières, the idea which had stiffened the
king’s back and resulted in the interview being fruitless. “We must
have guarantees for the future,” and the more they saw the rapidity and
persistence of their success, the more did they become attached to this
idea: “We must have guarantees.”


And they insisted on having for “guarantees” what was directly contrary
to all guarantee, for who can deny to-day that Alsace-Lorraine is the
only obstacle, and a permanent obstacle, to a durable peace between
the two nations? But at that moment the most far-seeing could not see
this; their eyes were blinded by success, their spirit was drunken with
military glory and the desire to use their strength up to the hilt and
without consideration for the future.

After the surrender of Metz, where the last soldiers of France
had given up their arms and gone as prisoners of war into German
fortresses, one hoped that the war would be finished and the signing of
peace would only be the work of a few days or weeks. But as the days
and weeks passed, and as Paris was “obstinate” in its resistance and
the provinces continued arming and defending themselves, in a word as
one arrived at the certainty that France would not surrender and that
after the defeat of her armies it was still necessary to conquer the
“nation” and invade the entire country, then passion and impatience
were born. An immense anger seized all Germany; her rulers, her
thinkers, her writers, the whole people, all those who wielded the pen
or the sword, all who lived and breathed, united in a single thought,
and proclaimed and repeated this formula of M. de Bismarck: “We must
have guarantees for the future.”

So much so that when history in the last instance judges and declares
this annexation as one of the greatest mistakes of our century, history
will be obliged to state that the entire German nation forced the hands
of their Government to commit it.

Since France had commenced this “impious” war, and “Divine Justice”
had granted victory, and an immense, a prodigious victory, one had
to have guarantees for the future against the chances of a future
attack. The sacrifices that had been made must not be lost to “the
children.” Future generations must be sheltered from the chances of
new provocations on the part of France, in case the latter should ever
again wish to declare war.

Such was the exact public opinion of Germany, and that is why it was
impossible to arrive at peace without the surrender of Alsace and
Lorraine, if France and Germany were to remain alone on the bloody
field to conclude it, and if the Powers were to refuse to intervene
against German demands and to force her to modify them.

From Munich, my last stopping-place, I went direct to Vienna.



From the first day of my arrival, it was clear to me that the good
people of Austria were with us in their hearts and were praying for our
success--but that was all. Our Ambassador, who was to present me to the
Imperial Chancellor, did not leave me in ignorance that the Imperial
Court had made its decision, and that I could obtain nothing from the
Austrian Cabinet. The latter was firmly resolved not to depart from the
most strict and absolute neutrality.

I was not long in convincing myself that this information was perfectly
accurate and, at my first interview with M. de Beust, at that time
Imperial Chancellor, I became assured that Austria was not in a
condition to accord the effective intervention necessary to carry
weight with Germany.

I have purposely said that Austria was not in a condition to, that
she _could_ not intervene effectively, because this was the truth and
because if I said that she _would_ not do so, it would perhaps be doing
her an injustice. It was not the goodwill that was lacking, but the

That was exactly the great misfortune of our situation; not a single
power in Europe was prepared for any kind of action: none was in a
position for action.

In 1870 Europe was not expecting war. Among all the living and active
nations, from the Ocean to the Ural Mountains, from the Mediterranean
to the North Pole, only one Power was on the watch and getting ready.
Only one Power was prepared at the moment of shock, and that Power was
exactly the one which France, herself unready, had chosen for an enemy.
Outside Prussia no one in Europe had foreseen war, and no one was armed
or in condition for a campaign.

The declaration of war in 1870 had burst unexpectedly in the midst of
peaceable Europe like a thunder-clap which shakes the earth in the
middle of a calm spring day.

All the Powers of Europe were enjoying a complete rest. Their armies
scarcely existed, their soldiers were on furlough and working quietly
in fields and workshops. Contingents had been reduced. All lived in
peace and security. Prussia herself had diminished her standing army,
and it was only due to her prodigious military organisation that she
was able to assemble her forces with hitherto unknown rapidity.

So France was alone in presence of her enemy. She was isolated in
Europe, not only from the diplomatic but also from the military point
of view. When the combat turned into defeat for the armies which
Europe had always regarded as legions of victory, panic seized the
minds of all. Europe, which had not armed _before_ the declaration of
war, because there was no cloud on the political horizon to menace
general peace, now, after the sanguinary battles and great successes
of Prussia, did not dare to arm, because she did not want to provoke
France’s conqueror, now become the all-powerful arbiter of Europe.

How often during this painful journey did I not hear the characteristic
remark: “We cannot mobilize a single soldier without exposing
ourselves....” The _quos ego_ of the conqueror paralysed Europe.

Austria was no better prepared than other nations. Consequently she was
not in a condition to intervene in the conflict more effectively than
by diplomatic intervention. And diplomatic intervention was bound to be
useless, since Prussia had formally declared that she would not accept
the mediation of any Power, and that she would deal direct with France
for the conclusion of peace.

I was excellently received by M. le Comte de Beust. He welcomed me
frankly and cordially, and did not attempt to conceal his views. His
first words convinced me that I was speaking to a sincere friend of
France--but to an impotent friend.

The interview, therefore, which lasted more than an hour, resembled
a familiar conversation rather than a diplomatic conference, and I
shall never forget the eagerness and, shall we say, the “_laisser
aller_” of the Imperial Chancellor, who seemed to seize with pleasure
an opportunity which allowed him to say what he thought of the war, of
the Imperial Government that had provoked it, and of the situation in
France since the surrender of Metz.

He was sincerely sorry for the defeat of France, but it did not
astonish him, for he knew well that Prussia had long been prepared for
this war, and he had never ceased, while there was still time, from
warning those who then ruled France. But his good advice had found no

He was full of admiration for the resistance of Paris and the splendid
spirit of the provinces, but he was afraid that all these prodigious
efforts would have no success. “The best thing you can do,” said he,
“would be to conclude peace as promptly as possible.” And he repeatedly
cited the example of his own country and reminded me of what Austria
had done after the disastrous Battle of Sadowa.

I find it difficult to describe the insistence and animation with which
he showed that all further efforts must be hopeless, and that there
was nothing left but to accept the evidence and conclude peace without
prolonging our resistance.

“The more you delay the more you are weakening yourselves--without
speaking of the irritation you are causing the enemy, who will augment
his demands as he advances his troops further and further into the
heart of the country. Take the advice of a sincere friend of France;
surrender and make peace.”

I did not hide from him that France had not yet reached the extremity
of concluding peace at any cost or under any conditions which the
conqueror would impose on us.

“It is quite true we have lost our last army at Metz; but Paris, the
great city, can hold out for a long time yet. Paris will stop the enemy
and give the provinces a chance of forming new troops.”

He shook his head and said simply: “You can no longer stop the
invasion, and it is better for you to surrender to-day than to-morrow.”

I then told him that the Powers also were interested in the result of
this war, because the equilibrium of Europe and their own security
was menaced by the weakening of France and the undue aggrandisement
of Prussia. “Is it not true that Europe has need of France, and of an
unlessened, unmutilated France, in its own interests and in order to
establish the balance of power in face of the menacing superiority of

“In their own interests the Powers ought to cast aside their apathy
and leave their rôle of quiet spectator in order to raise their voices
and signify to Prussia that all Europe wishes this war terminated by
a durable peace, by a peace which France can whole-heartedly accept.
I find it difficult to assume that Prussia, victorious as she is, can
disregard such intervention.”

M. de Beust answered me, smiling delicately and almost bitterly. “Is
that what you think?” said he. “Well, you are mistaken; Prussia will
listen to no one in Europe. She will be influenced by nothing except
the number of soldiers whom Europe can send to the theatre of war, and
Europe has none to send.”

The conversation had arrived at this point, and the Chancellor was
speaking to me so openly and frankly, in language so free from
reticence and reserve,--that I answered him in the same open manner.

I told him that I had just traversed a large part of Germany and
that I was perfectly informed as to the situation. “With one hundred
thousand men,” I said, “you could take Berlin.” “Perhaps that is true,”
he answered, “but Russia would then send two hundred thousand men into

       *       *       *       *       *

That was the situation in Europe.

As regards our attitude towards Prussia, he found that we were lacking
in cleverness. He was convinced that we were uselessly stimulating the
appetite of our enemy by our attitude and that we ought to have said
exactly the contrary to what was the gist of our language to Prussia.

“You make yourselves out too rich,” he added. “You repeat to M. de
Bismarck: money, as much money as you like, but no provinces. These are
bad tactics! You do not know your enemy. He will take both your money
and your provinces.

“Tell him, on the contrary, that you are poor, that the war has
exhausted your resources and that you are no longer capable of paying a
large indemnity. Give up Alsace. It is an inevitable necessity and you
cannot escape from this calamity. Who can say what the future has not
in store for us? A province lost is not necessarily a province lost for
ever, while as to your millions, you will never see them again.”

He then went on to examine the resources of Germany in their turn--and
he knew them well--and admitting for a moment the most favourable
chances that could still befall us, M. de Beust, after having weighed
and calculated everything, concluded as he had commenced. He thought
it impossible to resist the forces that had invaded France. Any
continuation of the conflict was a useless sacrifice. We should only
exhaust the country without being able to hope for any result. And he
sincerely advised us to stop the struggle and conclude peace as quickly
as possible, because the more we delayed, the greater would be the
demands of the conqueror. “To-day rather than to-morrow,” said he. We
had already shrunk too long from facing the facts.

He would have liked to see an assembly of the Representatives of the
Nation, but he freely admitted that in order to have elections we
should have need of an armistice and the revictualling of Paris, which
appeared difficult to obtain.

I took the opportunity offered by this remark to revert to my former
demand for an effective intervention on the part of Austria in concert
with the other Powers. Commencing with the desirability of convoking
a National Assembly, I went on to say that an armistice and the
revictualling of Paris, which would have allowed us to hold elections,
were exactly the things that Prussia had refused.

“Perhaps,” said I, “Prussia may change her mind on this question and
perhaps also allow of more tolerable conditions of peace if she sees
that France is not isolated.” And I added that, if my information
was accurate, the populace of the Austrian Empire was disposed to
intervene, and that public opinion would see in helping France an
opportunity of avenging Austria’s own defeat of 1866.

The Hungarians in particular had been reported to me as fervent
admirers of France. They would rise in a body to help us if the
Government did not prevent them.

But this was far from being M. de Beust’s view.

There was certainly great and sincere sympathy for the French cause
everywhere in the Austrian monarchy. But one must not exaggerate.
To conclude from this that a war against Germany would be a popular
war in Austria would be a great exaggeration and a great mistake.
“Besides,” said he, lowering his voice, “we are absolutely lacking in
the material means for a campaign.” And he frankly explained the whole
situation that I have previously described and everywhere insisted
that: “We are not armed, and it is too late and too dangerous to
mobilise now.”

Before leaving M. de Beust I confessed to him that my mission did not
stop short with Vienna, but that I was also going to England. I asked
him if he had no message for me to carry to the English Cabinet, and if
Austria, under certain conditions, would not take part in common action.

“I authorise you to say to Lord Granville that, if England wished
effectively to intervene with the object of obtaining honourable
conditions of peace for France, England would not be alone and Austria
would go with her.”

This answer, which might appear to be full of promise, did not signify
very much and did not greatly compromise him who made it, in good faith
I admit, but with the certainty that England would not put him to the
necessity of keeping his word. The situation, therefore, was one of
frightful simplicity. It was this:--

If the Powers--I do not of course refer to Russia, who was in a
situation by herself--if the Powers had been able to intervene for
France without exposing themselves to a war with Prussia, intervention
would have taken place and France would not have remained alone to face
Germany in negotiating for conditions of peace.

France was, in fact, at this moment in the position of having
regained the sympathies of those who had turned away from her at the
beginning of the war. Moreover, the question was being asked with a
certain amount of anxiety whether the crushing of France would not
become a permanent danger to the general peace. If there had been
any possibility of influencing Prussia’s determination without the
mobilisation of soldiers, intervention would not have failed us, and
M. de Beust’s answer would not have been an evasive promise but the
sincere pledge of a friend willing to give all that circumstances
permitted him. I am inwardly convinced that M. de Beust intended
keeping his word should England have been able to decide to take a
similar initiative. But, as we shall see hereafter, England absolutely
refused, and always for the master reason that she did not wish to be
exposed to a rebuff from Prussia, who in the last instance would only
have heeded the voice of a general at the head of an army.

The “_quos ego’s_” of the conqueror held back Europe--for, “if Prussia
would not listen, what was then to be done?”

It was thus the fate of France to remain alone from the beginning of
the war to its close, and Prussia was well aware of it. She therefore
proclaimed, most energetically and with disdainful pride, to the whole
of Europe that she would not allow anyone to interfere in her affairs,
or to interpose as mediator between her and France; peace would be
concluded on conditions which she alone would settle with France, and
Europe had nothing to say to this arrangement which only concerned the
two principal parties.

And Europe allowed this thing because she had no means of checking it.
She knew well that words were not enough for Prussia, and she was not
armed so as to throw her sword if necessary into the balance in order
to give her words weight.

From Vienna I went direct to London, where I arrived in the first days
of December.



In the absence of our Ambassador, the Embassy in London had been since
the 4th of December under the charge of the First Secretary, and it was
this gentleman who presented me to Lord Granville. He warned me, just
as our Ambassador in Vienna had done, not to harbour any illusions;
nothing was to be obtained from England. The English Cabinet was
absolutely decided not to deviate from the strictest neutrality, and
all efforts to make them leave it would be waste of time.

This was just at the time of a military event of the greatest
importance which had taken place during the last days of November.

I refer to the sortie of General Ducrot, which commenced so gloriously
and which unfortunately so quickly disappointed all our hopes of a
change in the hazard of arms. To-day the events of this painful time
are far from our minds. The passing years have robbed them of their
intensity. I should therefore like to write down here, without making
any change, some passages from my diary, in order to give some idea of
the situation at the beginning of December.

“... All this was not encouraging. What was even worse, our affairs,
which had begun to improve with the good news of Ducrot’s victorious
sortie--a fact which had accelerated my voyage to London--have again
fallen into that critical and distressing situation which inspires
Europe with fear of our enemy and holds aloof from us all those who
admire our resistance and who would like to see it crowned with success.

“The ray of sunshine which for a moment shone on the fate of our arms
has vanished all too soon. The victory which restored our courage and
inflamed our hopes has lasted all too short a time.

“Already at Rouen, where I spent the night the day before the Prussians
entered it, alarming rumours were circulating in the town, and when I
arrived in London all hope of success was lost!

“Our young and valorous army of the Loire, which the day before had
been still victorious, was beaten. The army of Paris had been obliged
to abandon the positions it had bravely conquered in the bloodstained
days of the 29th and 30th of November. On the 3rd of December it
retreated to Paris.”

This was the military situation when I went for my first interview with
the late Lord Granville, at that time Minister for Foreign Affairs.

I will not draw a portrait of this eminent statesman, but would like to
indicate some peculiarities of his manner of speech, in order to throw
light on the conversation which I am about to describe.

I had been told that Lord Granville was extremely polite and
distinguished, but cold and chary of speech, and that his caution was
such as sometimes to be taken for timidity. He spoke little, and easily
allowed the conversation to drop into silence.

If I discovered those good qualities in the English Minister that had
been reported to me, I feel bound to say that I observed none of those
defects of which I had been warned.

Lord Granville certainly did not like to waste his time in useless
speech, but he did not allow the conversation to drop when a serious
question was being elucidated, and he knew how to be eloquent, even in
French. Only occasionally his tongue stopped suddenly--he spoke French
very slowly but very correctly--as if he had encountered a material
obstacle which he would not or could not overcome.

When I entered the Foreign Office I entertained no great illusions,
but I was armed with deep confidence and with a determination that was
difficult to subdue. I had faith in the justice of my cause, and this
faith animated my courage.

What I was about to ask was so just and reasonable, so in harmony with
the interests of England herself, that in spite of all that I had been
told I still preserved a spark of hope at the bottom of my heart.

I was at any rate decided not to leave the Foreign Office before
completely exhausting the question which was the object of my mission,
and I was determined not to leave without having clearly understood
and defined the attitude towards ourselves that England proposed to
maintain. I had to know, in a word, what we might hope from her.

I must say, and I say it with pleasure, that the eminent statesman was
at pains to facilitate this task. His welcome was perfect, his language
was frank, direct and courteous, and his answers precise and complete.
At the beginning of our conversation only, he appeared to me a little
cold and reserved in his answers. But, the ice once broken, he no
longer hesitated to express all his thoughts. He even seemed to find
pleasure in sounding the situation with me, so as to leave nothing in
doubt or obscurity.



I began by telling him of the situation in France, comparing its actual
condition with that of the days before the 4th of September. I tried to
show him what had been done since the disaster of Sedan, from the fall
of the Empire and the coming of the Republic till the present moment.

I pointed out--and he agreed--that after Sedan France was face to
face with despair. She was in chaos, in the void; nothing remained;
everything had to be recreated.

Paris was without arms and soldiers. The provinces were discouraged and
denuded of everything that might allow of a single day’s resistance.
The enemy’s armies were advancing without obstacle, invading France
town by town, province by province, devastating the country and
trampling it underfoot....

After this distressing but truthful picture, this miasma of exhaustion
and desolation, I drew for him a picture of the awakening of the great
nation on the day after the 4th of September. I described its hope
when there was no more hope, its courage when courage was madness, its
resistance when all means of resistance were at an end.

I described the whole nation erect, from Paris down to the smallest
hamlet lost in the mountains, unconquered and unconquerable, strong
and proud and with arms in its hands. A force had been created out of
nothing, and arms out of the Void.

Lord Granville listened.

He listened long, without making the slightest movement.

My words became more and more animated. He followed them, if I may
describe it so, with his eyes....

“You see, M. le Comte,” I said at last, “you see what we have done, and
from that you can judge what we are still capable of doing and what we
will certainly do. Paris is determined to undergo the greatest rigours
of war rather than surrender.

“The provinces, who for a moment hesitated, plunged as they were in
that evil habit of waiting for everything to come from above and never
undertaking anything themselves, the provinces also have awakened
to the inspiration of a powerful genius and have risen as one man.
They also are up and resolute. They are animated by the same spirit,
penetrated by the same conviction, and inflamed with the same courage.
All France is in arms. She has lifted high her flag, on which she has
written: “Victory or death!”

He still listened without a movement.

Had I spoken into space? Was silence to fall before the conversation
had well commenced?

Was this silence to be interpreted as approval, or, on the contrary,
was the eminent statesman’s mouth closed by the painful impression of
complete disapprobation?

I looked into his eyes and said: “I have spoken frankly and sincerely
to you, from the very bottom of my heart; have you no answer to give

His profound blue eyes rested on mine for a moment, then he said
slowly, almost stumblingly:

“M. Thiers, who came to see me, has already spoken to me as eloquently
as you have to-day.

“All that you have done is admirable, and France has shown an
elasticity which has astonished everyone. I have already said so to M.
Thiers. I repeat it gladly, and I can add with the utmost sincerity
that our admiration has only augmented and increased since that time.
We have attempted to intervene in your favour as much as the situation
permitted. We have done all we could to stop this war, which we
deplore. But we are not listened to. We have neither the right nor the
power to interfere in an affair which does not concern us. We desire
greatly that the war should be finished. We have made many efforts
to arrive at least at an armistice, but the Government in Paris has
refused the armistice which we have tried to negotiate....”

He again fixed his blue eyes on me as if to ask me: “Why has this
armistice been refused?”

It seemed to me to be an unfair question, and I said with a certain
amount of spirit: “Pardon me, M. le Comte, one cannot accuse the
Government of Paris of rejecting an armistice and means of coming to
terms. On the contrary, they have done everything humanly possible
to bring it about, but an armistice without re-victualling--that is
to say, an armistice with the prospect of starving Paris out, while
Prussia is recruiting her strength, was not acceptable, and Prussia
refused any other kind of armistice.”

“This refusal,” said he, mechanically lowering his eyes, “was not
reasonable. An armistice would have prevented many inconveniences to
Prussia and considerable difficulties to France, and the Government
could, at any rate, have profited by it to form a legal representation
of the country.” I was astonished at these words which appeared to me
absolutely unfair.

“What?” said I. “You consider it a reasonable thing to offer a
twenty-five days’ armistice, without re-victualling, to a town of two
millions which has been besieged for three months?

“Why, that would be taking away exactly so many days from the
resistance of this courageous town, which has shown in its days
of misfortune that it was something more than a city of pleasure.
Prussia’s acceptance of negotiations for an armistice could have had
no meaning without at least the re-victualling of the city. By her
refusal she has made the armistice impossible, and on her must fall
the responsibility of breaking off the negotiations. It is she who has
refused an armistice desired by the whole world.”

“No, it was not unreasonable,” he again answered me. “Prussia would
have lost much too much during a twenty-five days’ armistice.” And he
went on to give the most detailed reasons why the refusal was not an
“unreasonable” one.

This was his principal argument:--

If the armistice had not been successful in producing peace, Prussia
would have lost precious time which she would have been obliged to
pass in inaction. She would thus herself have prolonged the term of
sacrifices and of sufferings which the war necessarily imposed on
her, and she would have lost this precious time without any kind of

“Your Government,” added the noble lord, “formally instructed M. Thiers
to reject the armistice, so it is not Prussia that has to be considered

It is difficult for two persons to come to an understanding if they
start from such different points of view that one says to the other
“This is just” where the other only sees a manifest injustice.

It was easy for me to see that Lord Granville would depart from none of
his views, and would answer all my arguments by contrary ones. So it
seemed useless to discuss the point any longer. I contented myself with
saying that the actual Government of France would have been glad to
convoke a National Assembly to share its heavy burdens, had they been
allowed to do so.

“The devoted men,” I said, “at the head of our nation have picked
up the fallen reins of power solely to arm the nation and organise
national defence against the invasion. They are not ambitious of
honours. They have arrogated to themselves only the duties of power,
and they have done so with the sole idea of national defence.

“They would have been glad to convoke the delegates of the nation and
place their power in the hands of a freely elected National Assembly,
and it is solely and entirely for this end that they have demanded
an armistice. Perhaps they would have been content with less than
twenty-five days,” I added, in order to sound Lord Granville on this

This remark was to his liking. He interrupted me briskly and asked me:
“How many days do you think would be enough for the elections?”

I answered that, at the narrowest computation of what was strictly
necessary, I thought that it would take perhaps twelve to fifteen days
to carry out the elections, but that I was in no sense qualified nor
competent to say so, and this was merely my personal opinion. “But
then,” said he, “the Government would do well to proceed to election in
this delay and to ask for a twelve days’ armistice. It would be a great
advantage for you if the country had a legal representation.”

“Would Prussia accept?”

“Yes,” said he, “she would have accepted any armistice without
re-victualling....” Then, as if he had gone too far, and, as it were,
to correct himself, he immediately added that of course he had no means
of knowing what were the dispositions at this moment of the Prussian
General Staff. He did not know whether they were still inclined to
grant an armistice, and he did not like to promise us anything with
regard to this....

Such was the dominant note I encountered in all my official
conversations: an unmeasured fear of being exposed and compromised.

To reassure him I answered: “Do not think, M. le Comte, that I will
take you at your word. I do not think the National Defence Government
is willing to accept the responsibility of an armistice with the
prospect of starving Paris out, even though it be only for twelve days.”

“But,” he answered, “since Paris could hold out a long time yet, as
you have just told me, twelve days cannot hurt her much and twelve
days will give you the immense advantage of having the country
constitutionally represented.”

He developed the idea that up to the present the National Defence
Government was only a _de facto_ Government, and that it would be in
its highest interests to have a National Representative at its side on
which to lean.

I replied that his observation was subject to correction; that the
National Defence Government was not only a _de facto_ Government, but
was approved within the country and recognised without as a legal and
regular government. However, there was nothing it more ardently desired
than the chance of convoking a National Assembly. “I will,” I said,
“faithfully transmit your excellent suggestions to my Government.”

“How can you communicate with the Government in Paris?” he asked.

I was very glad that he put this question, for it was my intention
to ask him to intervene so that I might be able to return to Paris
in order to report directly and personally to my Government all the
information I had gathered since the time I left.

But as I did not wish to interrupt the trend of our conversation, I
answered that I should like to speak on this subject later, before
taking my leave, and I asked him to have the kindness to continue
developing his ideas regarding the question of the “Representation of
the Country.”

Lord Granville then discussed two other methods of creating what he
called the “legal representation of the country.” In asking for a
“legal” representation he was above all guided by the following idea,
which seemed to preoccupy him considerably, for he often came back to
it; there was actually no longer a “legal” authority in France; there
was a _de facto_ Government, but it had not received legal sanction.

“There is no one,” he repeated, “under existing conditions, who has the
right of treating in the name of France, and Prussia would not even
know with whom to come to an understanding when the moment arrives for
discussing conditions of peace.”

It was with this event in view that he so desired the meeting of a
national assembly. It was no use telling him he was mistaken--for I
considered it essential to show him the true situation; he persisted
in his opinion; and these were the two means which appealed to him for
arriving at the creation of a National Representation:--

First of all, he thought, the Conseils Généraux might furnish a
Constitutional Assembly.

After developing the details of his point of view and the advantages
which were to be gained from such an Assembly, he finished his remarks
by this question: “Why will you not have recourse to the Conseils

I told him that the Conseils Généraux had no constitutional right to
represent the nation. He seemed to admit my argument, and reverted to
his first idea:--

“But why not have the Elections without an armistice?”

His previous remarks, when we were speaking about M. Thiers, had
sufficiently shown me the gist of his thoughts. He wanted to see
Elections held in France by any means whatever, even without an

I could not accept such a proposition and I refused to understand
how a statesman, anxious for the dignity as well as for the material
interests of his country could give such advice. Elections in a
country invaded by the enemy! Elections under the enemy’s gun-fire!
Elections at a time when every citizen was under arms against the
invader, elections, in a word, while Prussia was bombarding Paris and
advancing her armies! That was an idea which I simply could not grasp.
I tried, but in vain, to make him share my perplexity. Moreover, I had
encountered the same idea with M. de Beust.

At the time I could not understand it and it revolted me. To-day I can
see how the idea arose and held its own simultaneously in the minds of
these two eminent statesmen, who held the reins of Government in two
countries so different in origin, constitution and tendencies.

The National Defence Government was only, when all was said and done, a
_de facto_ Government.

The men who composed it had picked up the Executive when it fell
from the Empire’s hands, only for the purpose of not letting it fall
into the gutter, and for using it to defend the country against the
invaders. These men certainly had the confidence of Europe, and their
Government was immediately and gladly recognised by all the Powers; it
had been recognised and respected even by the enemy.

But side by side with this _de facto_ Executive there also remained the
débris of the fallen Government, which had by no means renounced its
past, and still lived in the hope of coming back and again laying hands
on the Crown, which though fallen they still thought unbroken.

On the other side there were demagogues, orators and low-class
politicians, all that unhealthy ferment which had burst out on the 31st
of October and nearly overthrown the National Defence Government.

The latter, it is true, had conquered this first revolt, but the
pretensions and aspirations of the party which had caused the rising
were not conquered. They were only pushed out of the way and reduced
to silence, but they still smouldered in the ashes and no one knew
when they might not break out afresh, or whether the Government would
again be as fortunate in reducing them to impotence and maintaining its

This is what seriously preoccupied foreign statesmen and inspired them
with the idea of creating a “legal representative,” in any manner
whatever, by any means and at any price. Above all they wanted to
guard against unexpected surprises. Before all and above all they
wanted to have an authority to deal with, which was not only a
Government _de facto_ but a Government that had been consecrated--even
if only apparently--by the votes of the French people, and that could
by that token be accepted by all parties and be safe from sudden
attacks and ambushes. This is why Lord Granville first asked me to have
recourse to the Conseils Généraux of the Empire, and when I showed him
the impossibility of such a solution, this is why he suggested that we
should simply hold the Elections without any armistice, by carrying
them through as quickly as possible.

I should have liked to show him again how unfair and impossible I
considered his proposition, but it would have been preaching in the
wilderness, and so all I said was: “What would you do in the provinces
that are invaded and occupied by the enemy?”

The noble lord’s answer showed me, more than anything I have said up
till now, what were the thoughts which exclusively obsessed him.

Lord Granville was not embarrassed by my question. He thought one
could simply get the votes of the yet unoccupied provinces, and that
that would be enough to obtain a “Representation of the Nation.” I
began to have less and less understanding of the Minister’s arguments,
and carried away by feelings which I had difficulty in controlling,
I answered with spirit: “No, M. le Comte, France will never hold
Elections in such a manner.”

Did Lord Granville feel the bitterness of his proposal, or did he
understand the uselessness of insisting on it? Whichever it may be,
he answered me in roughly these words: “I understand. But let me
see if I cannot convince you. As you do not want to have Elections
without an armistice, and as the Conseils Généraux cannot serve for
the composition of a Constitutional Assembly--you have explained the
reasons and I quite understand them--then why have you not accepted
an armistice? You say that you think twelve days might at a pinch
be enough for the Elections. Then why do you not ask for a twelve
days’ armistice?” Without waiting for my answer he went on to say:
“Think well and look the facts in the face. Prussia could push her
troops even further into France. She could occupy the whole country
and would always be in the situation which is troubling us, that of
not knowing with whom to treat for peace.” I think that at this point
Lord Granville touched as it were on the possibility of restoring the
Empire. To be more exact, he allowed me glimpses of a theory, timidly
and in terms that were so vague that they have escaped my memory, that
Prussia might very well come to the idea, failing a better one, of
treating with the last Government which France had had.

And without waiting for my reply he continued: “France has given an
exhibition of military courage which has aroused the admiration of
the world, but there is also a _civil courage_ which a great people
must not neglect, and which is even greater and more admirable than
military courage. You have done great things, but you must now have
the civil courage which consists in recognising your true situation and
in ceasing to sacrifice the precious blood of your children when such a
sacrifice can no longer be of use.”

“M. le Comte,” said I, “I thank you sincerely for the expressions of
admiration you have just uttered. Coming from you they have great
value, but I believe that though you admire our military courage you
take too black a view of the situation. We have not reached that point

“Paris, wonderful Paris, the heart and the hope of France, has held
out. She is on her feet and inflamed with the desire to defend herself,
and she will defend herself for a long time yet. The great city is
not yet ready for surrender, and the provinces are only beginning to
awaken. In but a little while they will bring against Prussia, who is
accustomed to the idea that there are no more soldiers in France, a
young but enthusiastic army, and it will not be the first time that
young French recruits have beaten the seasoned armies of Prussia.
There is the truth. Military courage, therefore, is not yet useless. It
is not yet beaten and need not yet hand over the fate of the country to
that elder brother whom you have well called “civil courage.”

Lord Granville answered: “If you think your resistance can bring about
a better result for you, you are right in continuing the struggle,
however unequal it may be. But if this only serves to weaken the
country even more, the men who have the fate of the nation in their
hands are _in duty bound_ to stop and not to ask for useless sacrifices
from this courageous people. The resources of France are immense;
we know it well. She will very quickly lift herself up from these
temporary disasters.”...

M. de Beust, it will be remembered, had already expressed the same

“Yes,” continued Lord Granville, “she will recover very quickly. Her
elasticity is wonderful, but one must not put it to too severe a test.
One must not break the springs.”

I found pleasure in hearing him speak in this manner, and I began
to like his slow and well-weighed words, which so far had not given
me much encouragement. Lord Granville had shown a certain warmth in
admiring the resources and the “wonderful elasticity” of France.
He finished by laying weight on his words: “Your Government’s
responsibility in continuing the conflict is great, for the nation
itself has not yet pronounced on the serious question: Does it want war
to continue _ad infinitum_?

“Your Government is full of confidence in the vitality of the country
and refuses to surrender to Prussian demands, but you do not know what
are the feelings of the nation. And if the nation is not of your way of
thinking, or if your Government is mistaken, if instead of pushing back
the enemy you were to see him advance still further? His demands would
only be increased and you would have imposed sacrifices on your country
that are as fruitless as they are painful.”

It was difficult not to admit the justice of this reasoning, and I
did not hesitate to tell him so. But I again and insistently asked him
to reflect and to admit that it was impossible to go to the country to
sound its feelings while the enemy refused us the physical means of
doing so. I assured him that the Government would have been happy to be
able to consult the country, and that even now there was no greater nor
more pressing desire; but how was it to be effected?

“Can one make Electors come together with rifles on their shoulders in
order to vote, while the Prussians are advancing to occupy our towns?
Is it not evident that to have Elections we must have an armistice?

“Just now,” I said, “I think I gathered that if you had a counsel to
give us it would be to try and have the Elections in the shortest
possible time, and to ask for a shorter armistice than in the previous
negotiations, which fell through over the question of re-victualling.
Would you in such a case offer your good services, and would you charge
yourself with reopening the negotiations on this matter?” He answered:
“I have already told M. Thiers that the best form of negotiation would
be for you to address the General Staff at Versailles direct and
without intermediary.”

I pointed out to Lord Granville that he himself knew the situation
sufficiently well to foresee that the result of direct negotiations
with the General Staff at Versailles could only be negative. “Besides,”
I said, “the question which I have taken the liberty of putting to you
had its sole _raison d’être_ in our conversation. The question was born
of the moment and is part of a purely personal reflection. It was only
suggested to me by my desire to show you how much I have at heart the
understanding of the remarks which I have the honour of hearing from
your lips.”

After Lord Granville’s advice to address ourselves direct to the
General Staff at Versailles, it was clear to me that the only wish
of the English Government was not to expose itself, to keep strictly
and prudently out of the way and to interfere in the negotiations as
little as possible--that is to say, to have nothing to do with them.
For all this there was a peremptory reason. It was not entirely lack of
goodwill, but the fear of compromising themselves.

Everywhere I observed this exaggerated fear of being dragged into a
conflict with Prussia. At that time I regarded this feeling as one of
weakness, but on reflection it seems to me that it must be judged less
severely. One cannot arm from one day to another. Moreover, a great
Power cannot raise its voice without giving its words the support of
arms should it not be listened to. And Prussia, as I have already said,
would have listened to nothing, unless it were a general at the head
of a strong army. Now England at that time had no army either. She was
in a complete state of peace. Besides, had she not been warned by her
rebuff from the Prussian General Staff that she had only one thing to
do: _keep quiet!_

In fact if Lord Granville thus sent me back to Versailles to re-open
negotiations for an armistice it was because “Odo”--that is the
Christian name by which he called the Under-Secretary of State, Mr. Odo
Russell, who was with the General Staff--had written him that M. de
Bismarck would no longer listen to him. “M. Odo,” said he, “wrote to me
only yesterday that France had now better approach the General Staff
direct and that M. de Bismarck has nothing further to say to me.”

It was an irrefutable argument, and the least I could do to repay such
frankness was not to insist any more, unless it were openly to ask the
Secretary of State that England should go to war.

But yet I did not wish to retire. Seeing that Lord Granville still
listened to me with interest and appeared in no hurry to terminate our
interview, I moved the armchair, on which I was seated and which I had
pushed back a little during the last part of our conversation, a little
nearer to him. His knees nearly touched mine. I looked at him, trying
to read into his blue eyes, and I said:--

“You have received me so kindly that I would like to speak as frankly
as you will allow me. I am young, M. le Comte, and I am still younger
in diplomacy....”

“And I am old in diplomacy,” he answered, laughing and showing a line
of very white teeth which seemed formally to belie his words.

“You must therefore be indulgent to me and my inexperience....”

“I have not noticed it,” said he, laughing again, in order to encourage

“And if you find that I am perhaps too persistent you will lay the
blame on my inexperience and the youthfulness of my heart. I cannot
remain calm and master my emotion, when I think of Europe to-day and of
the actual situation in France. It is a situation that you know well.

“Now you have given us advice, a good and excellent piece of advice,
and the advice of a friend. You have told us: Hold your Elections. I
have pointed out the impossibility of doing so without an armistice....
And you send me back to the General Staff at Versailles to get it!

“I assure you, M. le Comte, _that_ means war, the continuation of war
to the point of exhaustion. France will not yield; she will continue to
defend herself to the last man; she will let her territory be invaded
down to the last village rather than accept unacceptable conditions.

“Will Europe continue as an impassive spectator of this terrible

“Will England continue to fold her arms without intervening to stop the
carnage between two peoples?”

“We can do nothing to stop it,” he objected.

“But,” I said, “what a great and wonderful part you could play! You
would stop a barbarous war of destruction between two civilised
peoples, give back to Europe the peace she so ardently desires, and
of which she has as much need as France herself after these terrible
conflicts, after the entire upsetting of all political, economic
and financial relationships. You would thus create for yourselves a
striking claim to the gratitude not only of France, your ancient friend
and ally, but also of the whole of Europe. With your great experience
you can yourself clearly see that if we remain alone to deal with our
enemy, his demands will be such that peace cannot be concluded in a
lasting fashion.

“Therefore your intervention would be a service to all Europe.

“And all this would cost you no great sacrifice. There would be no
need for you to go to war against Germany. It would be enough for you
to take up a firm and resolute attitude such as reason, humanity and
forethought for the future all dictate to you.”

“And if they do not listen to us? We cannot make war on Prussia!
We have done all we could; we have made many representations at
Versailles, but they will no longer listen to us.”

“Because you have not dared to speak as one must speak in order to
be listened to. Because you have not dared or wished to speak the
strong words which alone carry weight with Prussia and because you
have confined yourselves to timid observations and discreet counsels,
hesitatingly offered ... and which you scarcely dared to offer.

“Prussia will certainly not yield to these! But if you were to change
your tone, you would very quickly see Prussia change her attitude.”

“But what attitude do you want us to take up, and what do you mean by
“_strong_” words?”

“I will tell you, M. le Comte; say this to Prussia:--

“You have attained unprecedented successes and you have completely
and entirely gained all your desires. A new conflict will add nothing
to the advantages you have gained. Therefore stop now, for the war is
now beginning to become a war of racial destruction. Stop, and give
the French Government a chance of consulting with the people, and then
conclude peace with it. Do not refuse Europe the peace which she has
need of.”

--“But if Prussia pays no attention to these words?”

--“You must support your words by arms, I admit. But that will not
be war, because you do not want to make war. No, it will not be war,
because Prussia does not want it any more than you do. But Prussia will
yield before the possibility of seeing England entering the fight at a
time when she has need of all her strength to finish off with France

“How should you know that?” he answered. “What guarantee can you give
me? Allow me to tell you,” and he smiled very graciously in order
to sweeten his words, “you are not in the counsels of the King at
Versailles and you cannot know anything about it any more than I can.”

“I do not know, it is true; but may one not make calculations?

“You know even better than I how immensely the whole of Germany desires
to see the war ended. Prussia thinks that with France alone she will
soon reach her goal. Will she be willing to prolong the war and in a
sense renew it with a great Power like England? And I am entitled to
tell you that England would not be alone with France in such a war.

“I have just come from Vienna. I was told at Vienna, and authorised
to repeat it to you, that Austria is disposed to go hand-in-hand with
England in everything that concerns France. Austria would follow
England if the latter would decide to intervene effectively in favour
of France.”

“... Who told you that?” Lord Granville quickly interrupted me. “Was it
M. de Beust?”

As I saw that Lord Granville was in no way inclined to do what I asked
him, it did not seem necessary to answer him and perhaps to compromise
a sincere and devoted friend by publishing the secret of his friendly
disposition towards ourselves. So I answered this question by saying
that, if Lord Granville would be kind enough to wait a moment, I
would later on tell him who was the person in question. The promise,
however, had been made me in Vienna, it had been made in full view of
its provoking action on the part of England, and I had been expressly
authorised to speak of it here.

“But that would be war--and we do not want war!” he answered

“No, it will not be war. On the contrary, it will be the end of war,” I
said with spirit. “It is certainly very bold of me to want to foresee
events better than you and contradict a view which appears to you
sound. But I say it with conviction, it will not be war. No, it will be
peace, and a peace worthy of two nations, a durable peace.

“And this is the reason why. In the face of European intervention,
brought about by the initiative of England, Prussia would be obliged to
diminish her exorbitant pretensions, and France would, on her side, be
reasonable and listen to the counsels of Europe.

“You know from his action at Ferrières what M. Jules Favre’s policy is.

“That policy has not been changed.

“We are decided to continue the fight to the last limits of human
strength, as against demands which we cannot accept. But we are ready,
France is ready, to accept any conditions which are not incompatible
with her honour.

“Effective intervention on the part of England would therefore mean
peace, and a durable peace, because it would be consented to without
humiliation for the conquered side, for valiant France who will always,
in spite of her actual defects, remain a great and chivalrous nation.”

My persistence did not appear to satisfy Lord Granville. He followed
me willingly on every question and infused much spirit and cordiality
into the conversation, but every time I came back to the noble rôle
that England might play by using her authority and power for effective
intervention, he seemed painfully impressed and impatient to terminate
the discussion. Perhaps he himself felt, without caring to confess
it, that I was right when I showed him the splendid part his country
might play in the sanguinary drama that was being enacted in France,
and perhaps his were the painful feelings of a man who is obliged to
fight against his own convictions. In any case, the subject seemed to
importune him and try his patience.

On this occasion he answered me that France must not forget that it
was definitely she who had commenced the war. Our conversation turned
at length round this point, the declaration of war by the Empire,
the military consequences of the Empire’s fall and the change in the
very nature of the war. But these questions are no longer of interest
to-day, and I pass them by. Our conversation had already lasted more
than an hour, and I was getting ready to say good-bye to Lord Granville.

“If I have understood you aright,” I said, “you will do absolutely
nothing for us?”

“Personally I should like to do all that is in my power. For you see,”
he added, with a sincere and almost paternal air, “I am fond of France
and the French, and I would be happy to contribute to your success. But
as a statesman I must tell you that we cannot make war for France. War,
you see, is a terrible thing, and one must think well before going to
war. You are a more warlike people than we are; the French fight for
an idea, and that would be impossible for us. When we closed the last
Session of Parliament, we undertook not to deviate from the strictest
neutrality, and we were applauded by Parliament. We cannot go before
Parliament now and proclaim war. We have not the right and we cannot do

“But, if I am well informed,” I objected, “a war with Prussia would not
actually meet with much opposition from public opinion. It seems to
me that such a war would, on the contrary, be popular in England.” I
also said that the situation had altered considerably since the English
Cabinet had given its parting message to Parliament.

“France is to-day fighting for a just cause. She is defending hearth
and home and the integrity of her soil. She has given proof of
extraordinary strength and vigour in this unequal and terrible combat
and she has regained that which she had lost by the declaration of
war--I mean the sympathies of the entire world. That is why public
opinion has changed also in England, and that is why I believe that
effective intervention would in England to-day be a popular action.”
Lord Granville answered me: “Let me explain the true situation of our
country in this matter. The military, particularly the officers, are
in favour of France. They want war. Then there is a numerous enough
party among the working-class population who share this sentiment.
But all the rest of the population have ideas which differ according
to the political opinions which they profess. We have Republicans,
Imperialists, Orleanists, Legitimists, etc. You see we have seriously
considered the question,” he went on to say, “we don’t want to speak
without being able to give our words the support that is necessary to
make them heard. If Prussia did not listen to us, we could not let it
remain at that, and we are quite decided to keep the undertaking we
have made to Parliament. That is why we cannot do more than we have
done up till now.”

“Which means,” I said, “that you can do nothing?”

“Not so,” he answered. “But _for the moment_ we can do nothing. Later
on, when peace conditions are discussed, we will be able to intervene
in the negotiations more successfully.”

“Later on!” I exclaimed. “Do you know what will happen later on, M.
le Comte. Later on one of two things will happen; either we shall be
victorious and we will push the Prussians back; that is what I hope,
and then we will have need of no one; or we shall be conquered, and
then you will dare to speak even less than now; at any rate, Prussia
will then pay no more attention to your words than she does now. If you
do not want to be condemned never to act, you must act now.”

Lord Granville answered: “I don’t want you to leave me under the
slightest illusion on this matter. I have already said so to M.
Thiers--we cannot deviate from the strict neutrality which we have
observed till to-day.” He added that Prussia had long been complaining
about England’s interpretation of neutrality in delivering arms to
France and so prolonging her resistance. But he, Lord Granville, had
answered that such had been England’s conduct since the beginning
of the war, that her conduct was perfectly compatible with strict
neutrality, and that she was not going to change it now, etc.

I answered: “Your reply, M. le Comte, is distinct and categorical, and
I thank you for it. Only let me present one last consideration. It
concerns the Eastern question. Have you nothing to fear on that side?
Do you not think that France’s word will one day be useful and her help

“You do not want to make war now, but perhaps you may be forced to
make it later, and then you will be isolated and alone because you
have abandoned France, your old friend and natural ally, in the hour
of danger. Think of the future, M. le Comte! France has a future; she
will recover from this war and she will be stronger, greater, and more
powerful, because she has given proof of her wonderful vitality and
energy in adversity. Our fleet will then be able to play a great rôle.
If you abandon us now you may be alone in your turn when you are forced
to take up arms and have need of an ally.”

“When we are forced to it,” said he, “well, we will take up arms and
we will go to war....” But he said that England was not for the moment
in this situation and consequently he did not see the necessity for
changing her policy. His Government would never take the formidable
decision of dragging the country into war without being absolutely
obliged to do so.

He once more recalled the terms with which the last Session of
Parliament had closed, and the terrible responsibility for a Government
to precipitate a nation into the sufferings and miseries of war. Then,
after some protestations of friendship towards France, he finished with
these words:--

“I do not want to leave the slightest misapprehension in your mind, and
would like to continue elaborating my ideas.” He then definitely laid
down as it were into an unchangeable proposition, the reasons which he
had indicated why it was impossible to change anything in the policy
that England had observed up till now.

Our Interview was at an end. Only I did not want to leave Lord
Granville without saying a word on the impossibility of restoring the

He had done no more than hint at the idea that the Empire might
possibly be restored to France by the enemy, and his allusions were
so slight and, I might almost say, so intangible, that when an hour
afterwards I returned to my lodging and made notes of the principal
passages in our conversation, I found it impossible exactly to remember
the terms he had employed in speaking of it.

However, he often came back to this point. Even when he insisted that
the National Defence Government would do well to call a National
Assembly under any conditions whatsoever, even without an armistice,
one of his arguments consisted in pointing out the possibility of an
Imperial Restoration. “At the worst,” he insinuated, “Prussia might
well negotiate with what remains of the Empire.”

I therefore thought it would be useful not to let this idea take root
in his mind, and to make him understand that it was a pure delusion,
which it would even be dangerous to entertain. I told him that I did
not know up to what point competent men in England were capable of
seriously regarding such an event as being possible in France, but
if they believed in it for a single moment they would be strangely
deceived. The restoration of the Empire was henceforward absolutely
impossible. The supporters of the fallen régime had absolutely no
illusions on this point.

“They themselves are perfectly aware,” I continued, “at least, those
who have remained in France, that the country is no longer with them,
and that the prisoner of Wilhelmshohe will never remount the throne
of France, neither he nor those that are his. Sedan has for ever
demolished the Napoleonic Idea, and the bloodstained and terrible
ending of the Second Empire has for ever cured the nation of all
dangerous legends. To-day we know too well what it costs a great
country to give itself a master whose only merit is an illustrious
name, and there is no temptation to again give way to that sort of
madness! He who is to-day the enemy’s willing prisoner has fallen too
low for a proud nation like France ever to forget the disgrace. Has
the unhappy Emperor even to-day no fear of accusing, against all sense
of justice, the brave country which was formerly his Empire, of having
wanted and provoked the war? His return to France would be the signal
for a general rising, and if Prussia wanted to attempt it she would
be obliged to protect him with her armies and so perpetuate the war
instead of definitely terminating it.”

Our conversation had lasted more than an hour and a half, and it was
at Lord Granville’s own wish that it had done so, for he had been
interrupted several times. On each occasion I rose to retire, but he
had held me back every time, graciously and with the serious insistence
of a man who does not wish to interrupt a subject which he does not
yet consider exhausted. When at last I took my leave of him, he wrung
my hand cordially and said he would be happy to obtain me a safe
conduct which would allow me to go back to Paris, and that he would ask
for it to-morrow morning.

In our conversation, as has been seen, I did not conceal my desire to
find a means of returning to Paris. I would thus be able to describe to
the National Defence Government the general situation in Europe, and
the attitude of the Cabinets and the sentiments of the Courts of Vienna
and London.

Lord Granville heard my wishes very affably, and was at great pains to
help them. So I did not hesitate to profit from his disposition, and
begged him to ask for a safe conduct for me.

Unfortunately my desire and his were not realised. Next day Lord
Granville informed me that the démarche had not succeeded and that he
had been refused the safe conduct which he had asked for me.



I have been scrupulously exact in reporting nearly all the essential
parts of my conversation with Lord Granville.

I should like to do as much for the long interview which I had later
with Mr. Gladstone, at that time Prime Minister in the English
Cabinet. The words of this eminent statesman are all of them imbued
with a special character, which renders them in the highest degree
interesting, even when they ran counter to my wishes. However, “est
modus in rebus” and one must know when to stop in a short narrative and
be careful above all not to repeat oneself.

Mr. Gladstone clearly had the same ideas as Lord Granville regarding
the war and regarding England’s neutrality and the possibility of her
taking any steps in the interests of France. In substance he told me
exactly the same as Lord Granville had done on all these questions.

It will appear later that the two Ministers must have conferred
together and taken concerted views before receiving me, so as to
express exactly the same opinions. So I will do no more than give an
extract of my conversation with Mr. Gladstone and record in summary the
principal questions which arose.

I first met Mr. Gladstone at the house of his colleague, Lord Granville.

The latter gave a dinner in my honour the day after my first interview
with him, and among other persons he had also invited Mr. Gladstone.
That is how I made this gentleman’s acquaintance, and I looked forward
to profiting by it in furtherance of the enterprise which had brought
me to London.

It was certainly impossible for me to hope, after the formal
declaration of Lord Granville, that his colleague the Prime Minister
would have different views and would be more disposed than the former
to depart from the contemplative policy which seemed so dear to

At the same time I was convinced that it was not necessary for England
to plunge into war, which she would not do at any price, in order
effectively to serve France’s interests. If only she had consented
to take up another attitude, her intervention would have certainly
sufficed without it being necessary to go to the point of armed
intervention in order to modify Prussian demands at the moment of

I had not lost all hope of persuading English statesmen of this truth,
and I was very desirous of seeing the Prime Minister to sound his
thoughts, and in my turn express our views and aspirations.

The day after meeting him at Lord Granville’s I wrote to him asking for
an interview. He had already gone off to spend Christmas at Hawarden
Castle, a splendid country seat in the extreme west of the island, in
the county of Lancashire, near the city of Chester. London society
always passes a good part of the winter at its country seats. That is
easily understood, as the winter is sad and sombre by the foggy banks
of the Thames, while the English countryside is charming even in

What astonished me more was that the Prime Minister of a great country
like England could find it possible to live for a part of the year at
such a distance from the capital, Hawarden Castle being situated at the
other end of Great Britain. One has to cross the entire length of the
country between London and Liverpool to get there, and if my memory
serves me aright, I think the express train from London takes six hours
to reach the little station, which is two miles from the Castle. What
would they say in France of a “President du Conseil” who wanted to
live so far from Paris? The thing would be thought impossible and so
in truth it would be. But in London, on the contrary, everybody finds
it natural and things are not carried on any the worse for it. But the
English are a practical people, and we are not.

Mr. Gladstone has simply got the telegraph as his auxiliary; it
is installed at the Castle and goes direct from his study to
his Ministerial Office in London. He can thus be in permanent
communication with the whole Department and can transmit his orders at
any hour of the day or night.

Mr. Gladstone immediately answered my letter. He wrote that he much
regretted having left for the country before having had an opportunity
of receiving me, but that he flattered himself by hoping that I would
not shrink from a journey in order to give him the pleasure of a visit
and that I would accept his hospitality at Hawarden Castle. He did not
intend returning to London for some time and we should be quite at our
ease at the Castle and could talk together about any matter I liked.

I did not hesitate to accept his invitation, but knowing that in
England Christmas is par excellence a family gathering, I did not want
to come in as a stranger, and I answered that I would make a point of
visiting him two days after Christmas. Mr. Gladstone’s son met me at
the station on my arrival, and my room was ready at the Castle.

The next day, after breakfast, the master of the house put himself at
my disposition for an interview, and we repaired to his study.

The interview was a long and cordial one, and again confirmed my
conviction that the reason why we had been so completely abandoned by
our neighbours was that the war had broken out so suddenly that no one
had expected it and no Power had had the time to be prepared.

At the risk of being accused of needless repetition, I must again
describe what had already struck me in my interviews in Vienna, in
London and everywhere--that is, that the Powers were afraid of our
conquerors. Nor was this fear without foundation; it arose from the
state of impotence into which the suddenness of the war had plunged
every Government. The war had surprised them while in absolute repose,
and, as it were, asleep.

In all Europe a single Power was on guard and not taken by surprise,
for she was waiting for the alarm signal and had long been prepared for
it. It was the enemy which the Empire had chosen in a moment of evil
fortune and blindness.

When I say that only a _single_ Power foresaw the signal and was
prepared, that is true in the literally numerical sense of the word;
not even with the exception of the unhappy Empire which had caused such
general stupefaction by provoking the war.

To-day it is proved that the Empire went to war with Prussia as if it
had been a military promenade to Berlin. It did not see any danger,
and not even any difficulties ... and such was its blindness that
it entered on this ill-omened war without even having prepared the
material means necessary for such a struggle, and without having
assured itself of any allies. We were completely isolated, and this
isolation was forcibly and by the fatality of things doomed to last
till the end, till the conclusion of peace.

When the candidature of the Prince of Hohenzollern was definitely
abandoned, and when it appeared for a moment that the threatening storm
had cleared, the Powers all immediately recovered from their alarm and
thought the incident finished. The declaration of war which afterwards
supervened at a time when it was no longer expected by anyone, forcibly
threw all the States in Europe into profound stupefaction, and found
them in a state of absolute impotence. They were denied the material
possibility of arming, and the rapidity of events had robbed them of
the time necessary for their preparations.

Then, hostilities once commenced, Prussia did not allow them to take
breath or to recover from their stupefaction. On the contrary, their
amazement grew day by day, with the swift and bewildering rush of her
victories. Therefore our isolation, which marked the beginning of the
war and which gave the character of criminal folly to the enterprise,
continued during our disasters up till the last moment of the terrible
negotiations which finished with the mutilation of France.

The selfishness and the inertia of the Powers certainly equalled the
madness of those responsible for such a declaration of war. If the
rulers who presided over their destinies had then decided to follow a
more elevated and far-seeing policy, the mutilation of France would
have been prevented. The germs of new complications in the more or
less distant future would have been removed, and the foundations of a
sincere and lasting peace would have been laid in Europe. The era of
general disarmament, the Golden Age of modern times, could have been
prepared. But alas, the opportunity was lost!

The Powers, however, were able to explain their conduct in words often
repeated to me at the time: “You have taken us by surprise and we are
not ready. France is invaded, the German armies are victorious and
intoxicated by success. If Prussia were to refuse our intervention and
take us as at our word, the day we spoke more boldly we should with you
be beaten, because we are neither armed nor in a condition to fight
against victorious Germany.”

This is the explanation of the pusillanimous attitude which the States
of Europe maintained during the war and which no Power dared to depart
from, even at the moment of concluding peace.

France lacked neither sympathy nor good wishes, but our enemy was
feared, and none felt themselves in a position to challenge him. This,
if I am not in error, was the real cause of our isolation, even at the
end of the conflict when sympathy for us had revived and France had
shown courage and vigour worthy of another fate.

But to return to my interview with Mr. Gladstone at Hawarden Castle.
If it was as sterile as all the others, it was at least complete. We
examined every question exhaustively and in the minutest details.

Mr. Glynn, the member of Parliament and Secretary to the Treasury,
who was a friend of the family, on seeing me leave the study with Mr.
Gladstone, said: “You may flatter yourself on having enjoyed more
of the Prime Minister’s society than anyone else I know. Since Mr.
Gladstone has become Premier he has never granted anyone as long an
interview as he has to you.”

This was evidently very flattering to the cause which had brought me
here. Indeed, it was worth anyone’s while thoroughly to discuss it, but
without in the slightest degree overlooking the great kindness of my
charming host, I would have preferred a more satisfactory result even
if it had meant a shorter interview.

Mr. Gladstone spoke French perfectly, but he asked my permission--this
is a characteristic trait which shows the practical and cautious
mind of the great statesman of the Anglo-Saxon race--to carry on the
conversation in English because, as he said, he was more certain of the
accuracy of his expressions in his own language.

“The accuracy of his expressions!”----Does that not teach one a
remarkable lesson?

Here is an eminent Minister who has grown old in politics and is
accustomed to the most important and difficult conversations. He finds
himself in the presence of one who is young enough to be his son, and
he takes serious precautions to guarantee the sureness of his speech
and the accuracy of his expressions!

I learnt the lesson and followed his example. I accepted his proposal
and asked for reciprocity--that is to say, for permission for me to
answer in French. Our conversation was therefore carried on in two
languages, Mr. Gladstone speaking English and I replying in French.

The first point we discussed was the election of a National Assembly.

On this matter Mr. Gladstone gave utterance to an opinion which
well marks the difference between him and Lord Granville. I have
faithfully set down Lord Granville’s views, and the reader has seen
how insistently he advised the election, in any manner whatsoever, of
a National Assembly. Now here is what Mr. Gladstone thought on this

Should one proceed to elections, said he, or should one not even think
of such a thing under existing circumstances? That is purely and
essentially a domestic question, which concerns no one outside the
French Government. The French Government is the only judge, and a
sovereign judge, of that question; and no foreign nation has the right
to be heard on the desirability of this measure. But Mr. Gladstone,
like Lord Granville, could not see the impossibility of holding
Elections without an armistice, and said that, if he were entitled to
offer his advice to the French Government, he would counsel them to
do so. But he did not refuse to recognise that there were very good
grounds for a contrary opinion.

If one cannot go so far as to declare, said he, that it is materially
impossible to call a National Assembly, at least there is what may be
called a moral impossibility. Because the dignity of the elections
would suffer very much from the presence of the enemy and the actual
condition of the country.

Personally he had no hesitation in recognising the National Defence
Government as for the time being the legal government of the country.
This Government was strong with the approval and the assent not only of
Paris, which had confirmed it by a formal vote, but of the whole of
France, and every day that passed served to augment its moral force and
authority within and without the country. He recognised with pleasure
the efforts that had been made by the National Defence Government to
hold its own against the enemy, and he congratulated it on the great
progress in resistance which, thanks to its efforts, had been made.

Mr. Gladstone was not chary of compliments to ourselves, and seemed
animated by great admiration for France and by a deep desire to see our
efforts crowned by success. Recent events in particular had given him
hopes that we should arrive at the desired result by our own strength.

When we were speaking of the military deeds of the last fortnight--the
battles of the army of the Loire and the general organisation of the
country--he himself contrasted the position at the beginning of the war
with the progress that we had since made.

“I have observed with pleasure,” said he, “that there is a great change
in your situation; your military organisation has made considerable
advance. As you rightly say, the war has entered a new phase. You have
no longer only defeats, you have also successes to record and, above
all, your resistance is a serious one. You have soldiers, you have army
corps to put in the field against the enemy. Prussia is beginning to
encounter serious obstacles in her path. All this is really admirable
and gives one reason to hope that you will perhaps soon enter a last
phase, that of success. But one must not hide from oneself that it
is only a distant hope. You are still only _in the state of solid

“I have great confidence in your final success. The _fundamental
power of the French Nation is greater than is usually thought_. This
fundamental power appears throughout her history. Take, for instance,
the reign of Louis the Fourteenth. See what France suffered in the wars
of that period and see what she became in spite of her exhaustion. And
one must not forget that France was at that time divided into small
States, while she is now a single and great united country.”

Mr. Gladstone continued on these lines, and he did not tire of admiring
the prodigious efforts which we had made and which we were daily making
to resist an enemy who had every advantage over us. But when I thanked
him for his words and asked him for more effective and less Platonic
assistance than pure admiration, he answered me as his colleague Lord
Granville had done, by an absolute “non possumus.” England wished for
France’s success, but she could not leave the strict neutrality she had
maintained from the beginning of the struggle. The Government could not
unnecessarily throw the country into such an adventure and expose it to
a formidable war.

And the English statesman expounded his system with great warmth and
remarkable eloquence.

Parliament had closed its last Session with a formal declaration on
the part of the Cabinet, which might be resumed in the single word:
“Peace.” The Government had solemnly promised to an approving country
that it would assure it the precious boon of peace, and it had no right
to take away all the advantages and all the blessings which peace sheds
on a rich, strong and industrious nation. The Government were bound by
their promise and they would be guilty of a crime if they wished to
break it.

Mr. Gladstone is a philosopher and a historian. He likes to go back to
principles and to look at questions from the lofty point of view of
morality. After pointing out that his Government had given the country
an undertaking that it would maintain peace, he discussed the question
of war in general.

“War is a terrible disaster for humanity. Are there any circumstances
which may justify a Government throwing a country into war, and what
are such circumstances?”

Mr. Gladstone desired to narrow the limits within which war might be
considered justifiable as much as possible, but he thought that a
great country had the right to make war whenever the _cause_ was a
_just_ one. Consequently he considered that a Government may engage the
country in a just war, but only on condition that the nation has given
its consent.

I accepted this principle; the proposition seemed to be a good one
for my case, and I let him continue without interruption. After his
exposition I brought the conversation back to the actual state of
affairs by observing to Mr. Gladstone that the war between France and
Germany had greatly changed in character since the overthrow of the

At the beginning, it might have been held from a philosophic point of
view that the war was an unjust one as far as we were concerned, and
that it had been provoked without sufficient reason for the purpose
of conquest. But now the Empire had disappeared and France alone was
face to face with Germany. _Reparation was being offered for the damage
which her Government had done in provoking the war._ The French nation,
which had never wanted the war, was now fighting for its existence and
the integrity of its soil. France was now defending herself against
invasion and _conquest_. She was therefore continuing the fight for a
just and strong cause, and it was Germany that was refusing to end a
war which had become an immoral and an impious one as far as the latter
was concerned, since her haughtily avowed and only end was the brutal
conquest of Alsace and Lorraine.

Mr. Gladstone did not deny the justice of this argument.

I went on, and asked him if he did not admit that a great nation might
not only have the right but even, up to a certain point, the duty,
of intervening in a war of this nature. Did not the necessity for
intervention exist, if intervention not only served to maintain a just
and moral cause, but were also to a nation’s own interest?

Mr. Gladstone again admitted that there might possibly be circumstances
which would oblige England to take up arms and intervene in a struggle
between two other Powers, but he held that there were no such
circumstances in the present war.

I then told him that the future--perhaps the very near future--would
give him cause to regret not having seized the opportunity of putting
us under an obligation by going to war for a “moral cause,” and with
the approval of the English people. I referred to the difficulties
preparing for England in the East and the services we in our turn could
render her in that direction. He answered that he did not consider
the situation in the East as dangerous, and that he did not share the
opinions of those who saw in it a source of grave complications for
England; “I have no fears in that direction,” said he. “At any rate it
must not be forgotten that Russia has German provinces and that she is
more threatened by Prussia than we are. Moreover, we are sheltered from
the attacks of Prussia by the natural situation of our country. The
latter could not even attack the little island of Heligoland against
our will.”

I then went on to another order of ideas. I spoke of the ancient
friendship which united the two people and the great economic
interests which were drawing them nearer to each other day by day. I
asked him if England from this standpoint was not pledged to another
attitude towards France than that of being an inert and impassive
spectator at a time when her intervention could assure for France an
honourable peace, a just and moral peace....

Mr. Gladstone freely recognised that France had rights to England’s
friendship. “But,” he said, “I do not think those rights are such as
to make us intervene in a war which France has commenced herself and
without us. I do not think our friendship can go to the point of our
declaring war against Prussia and fighting at your side.”

At this point Mr. Gladstone reproachfully repeated the charge which had
everlastingly been made against us since the beginning of the war and
which I encountered everywhere from those I addressed. “Who was it,”
said he, “who definitely commenced this deplorable war? Who was it who
provoked it without any reason and for the sole purpose of conquest,
for the purpose, that is, of taking the Rhine?”

My answer was a very simple one. I looked at the question from Mr.
Gladstone’s own standpoint and loyally recognised the wrong we had
done. The war was the work of the French Government. The French
Government alone had commenced it without sufficient reason and for a,
from a philosophic standpoint, inexcusable and immoral purpose--that of
conquest. I did not even try to exculpate the nation, by saying, as I
might have done, that the French people were far from desiring the war,
and that, had they been consulted, they would have refused it with all
their energies.

I admitted the nation’s responsibility on the ground of their having
supported the Imperial Government and accepted a régime which had the
power of plunging them into such a war and in such circumstances. It is
best to argue after his own fashion with a Minister who likes to mix
philosophy and politics. “But do you not perceive that the situation is
to-day no longer the same? The Government which commenced the war no
longer exists. To-day the people are free and have pronounced their
opinion--they have never wanted the war. To-day they want it less than
ever. They are offering ransom to the enemy. Do you not think that
the wrongs of the past have been made good, as far as the nation is
concerned, by the overtures made by M. Jules Favre to M. de Bismarck at

I was not mistaken. Such arguments as these were to his taste.

Mr. Gladstone freely recognised that the interview at Ferrières might
be regarded as a considerable event. It had given another character to
the continuation of the war, and to-day the rôles were changed. It was
Prussia who was now pressing the purpose of conquest, and it was France
who was now defending the sacred soil of her territory. Mr. Gladstone
put much lucidity and eloquence into the task of expounding his views
concerning wars of conquest, legitimate defence of one’s territory, and
the “impious” continuation of war....

I will not write down the entire system of England’s learned Prime
Minister, but will only state that he himself admitted what I had said
at the beginning--namely, that a great nation had the right and even
the duty to intervene in an _impious war_ in order to finish it in the
interests of morality.

But when I asked him what was the application of his theory to the
existing war, and when I pointed out that this was a case in point and
that his theories could never be put into practice with more reason
than now, he shook his head....

“That is a tremendous responsibility,” he answered with conviction
and in a grave and solemn voice. “To throw a nation into war is a
responsibility that makes one shudder. The English people have suffered
cruelly from the wars of past centuries. They need peace and they want
peace. We have not the right to throw them into all the miseries of
such a war. For it would be a European war, a general conflagration,
and we have no right to throw ourselves voluntarily in, without being
provoked or attacked.”

Invoking his own words against him, I insisted on my point and did my
best to show him that his fears were exaggerated. Far from bringing
about a general conflagration, the intervention of England would result
in preventing the continuation of an _impious_ and _immoral_ war, and
intervention would have the approval of the English people. It would be
just and moral, and almost popular in the country.

Mr. Gladstone did not engage in the discussion of the principle which
he had laid down and developed. He admitted it, but he added; “We are
not as sure as you seem to be that war against Prussia would be popular
in England.

“Far be it from me to think that a great nation can refuse to go to
war when the war is for a moral purpose. I am equally far from denying
that this war is completely changed in character since the fall of
the Empire, inasmuch as its continuation on the part of Prussia has
conquest, an immoral thing in itself, as its end. But I am by no means
convinced that a war against Prussia would be really popular in

“Even if Austria joined us, you see it would still be we who had
commenced and who had brought it about. Consequently it would always be
we who had caused war, and that is a tremendous responsibility which
neither I nor any of my colleagues would ever care to assume.”

As regards the surrender of Alsace and Lorraine which Prussia demanded
as a _sine qua non_ for conditions of peace, this is what Mr. Gladstone
thought of it. “England will never agree to any territorial cession.
The English people have a horror of wars of conquest and will never
give their agreement to the dismemberment of France.”

I did not understand what that might mean, as on the one side Prussia
was loftily announcing these claims, and on the other England was
definitely decided not to oppose her. I finally understood that this
was another theory of Mr. Gladstone’s. All he meant was that England
simply did not approve of Prussia’s annexation of the two provinces,
but that she could do nothing to stop it.

From the commencement of our conversation Mr. Gladstone had expressed
great confidence in our ultimate success. At the end he reverted to
this theme. “Your efforts,” said he, “are prodigious and will be
crowned with success. You will end by being victorious.” He then
reopened the question of England’s intervention and said: “Perhaps our
intervention may be useful later.”

“Later,” said I. “May I ask when?”

“When the French armies are victorious.”

“What,” said I. “Is it _then_ that you intend to intervene? Is that
what your friendship consists of? You want to intervene _against_ us?”

“No,” said he, “_for_ you. But the opportunity will then be more
favourable than now, and Prussia will give way to us more easily....”

I answered the eminent statesman as I had already answered his
excellent colleague Lord Granville, that this was a singular manner of
practising friendship and that at any rate his friendship would then be

“_Hic Rhodos, hic salta!_ It must be intervention now or never!”

       *       *       *       *       *

I will not end this summary account without mentioning some curious
phrases uttered by Mr. Gladstone concerning the Second Empire.

It was clear that we were bound to speak of it. I had made it a rule,
ever since the inception of my journey, to speak of it only with the
greatest reserve.

I had foreign diplomatists to address, and it was consequently unworthy
of my rôle and unnecessary for my mission to belittle a Government,
which France had tolerated for eighteen years, more than it had
belittled itself.

But the persons I interviewed did not consider themselves bound to the
same reserve, and the fallen Government which had plunged France into
this war was criticised very severely both in Vienna and in London.
Among other things Mr. Gladstone said:--

“We have always regarded the 2nd of December with horror, and we have
always detested the régime it initiated. We have a hatred of despotism.
But since the French nation accepted it, we had on our side no other
course but to tolerate it. It was a question of domestic politics,
which in no way concerned a foreign people.

“Later on our dislike grew less. The friendly relations which the
Empire established between France and England, particularly the _great
commercial relations_, which it opened up by means of commercial
treaties, made us forget the horror which its origin and its despotism
had inspired in us ... but with the latter we were never frankly

“It was not till the month of January, 1870, that we had hopes of
amelioration. We then thought that a new parliamentary régime, with its
attendant liberties, was about to commence in France, and we greeted
the Ministry that was to have given it with pleasure and satisfaction.

“Unfortunately, we were mistaken....”

Coming back to the war and the causes which had brought it about, Mr.
Gladstone said: “We did everything that depended on us to prevent the
fallen Government from plunging into this war with Germany.

“We warned them, but they would not listen.

“They absolutely wanted the war, and they engaged in it, but not
without having been sufficiently warned, and well informed of the
condition of the enemy they were about to provoke....”

The reader will remember that the same thing had already been told me
in Vienna, and I again make no comments.

Nor will I comment on a very characteristic trait of Mr. Gladstone’s,
which struck me most forcibly.

As he rose and left the apartment with me, he said: “Have you from our
conversation gathered any difference between my views and those of Lord

       *       *       *       *       *

I will here terminate this narrative. Should circumstances permit me
I will take it up again later, in order to set down the events which
followed during the months of December and January until the conclusion
of peace.

  NOTE:--The sequel contemplated by the author was never completed.


Transcriber’s Notes

Punctuation, hyphenation, and spelling were made consistent when a
predominant preference was found in this book; otherwise they were not

Simple typographical errors were corrected; occasional unbalanced
quotation marks retained.

Ambiguous hyphens at the ends of lines were retained.

“armistice” was mostly printed that way, so occasional occurrences of
“armstice” have been changed to match the prevailing spelling.

Text uses “revictualling” and “re-victualling”, “_Gare d’Orléans_” and
“_Gare d’Orleans_”; both forms retained.

Page 16: Closing quotation mark added after “_Vive la France!_”.

Page 30: “ineffacable” was printed that way.

Page 129: Paragraph ending “we must have an armistice?” did not have a
closing quote, but as it is unclear whether the author or someone else
was speaking, the punctuation has not been changed here.

Page 178: “_Hic Rhodos, hic salta!_” was printed that way, rather than
as “Rhodus”.

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