Paris, May 17, 1848.
— I came to Paris by Boulogne Saturday night, May 6. I have been at lodgings ever since, in the Rue des Petits Augustins, where I manage to live very comfortably. On Monday (day before yesterday), as you will read in the papers, there was a revolution defeated which came within an ace of succeeding. We were all assured for an hour or two that the new government was proclaimed and the old routed, and Paris, in terror, seemed to acquiesce; but the National Guards, who are all but the entire male population of Paris, at last found somebody to rally and lead them, and they swept away the conspirators in a moment. Blanqui and Barbès, the two principal ringleaders, I knew well, as I had attended Blanqui's club on the evenings of Saturday and Sunday, and heard his instructions to his Montagnards, and Barbes' club I had visited last week, and I am heartily glad of the shopkeepers' victory. I saw the sudden and immense display of arms when the rappel was beaten, on Monday afternoon; the streets full of bayonets, and the furious driving of the horses dragging cannon towards the National Assembly; the rapid succession of proclamations proceeding from the government and pasted on the walls at the corners of all streets, eagerly read by crowds of people; and, not waiting for this, the rapid passage of messengers with proclamations in their hands, which they read to knots of people and then ran on to another knot, and so on down a street. The moon shone as the sun went down; the river rolled under the crowded bridges, along the swarming quays; the tricolor waved on the great mass of the Tuileries, which seemed too noble a palace to doubt of the owner; but before night all was safe, and our new government, who had held the seats for a quarter of an hour, were fast in jail. . . . I have seen Rachel in Phedre, and heard her chant the Marseillaise. She deserves all her fame, and is the only good actress I have ever seen. I went to the Sorbonne, and heard a lecture from Leverrier on mathematics. It consisted chiefly of algebraic formulas which he worked out on the blackboard; but I saw the man. I heard Michelet on Indian philosophy. But, though I have been to many places, I find the clubs the most interesting; the men are in terrible earnest. The fire and fury of the people, when they are interrupted and thwarted, are inconceivable to New England. The costumes are formidable. All France is bearded like goats and lions; then most of Paris is in some kind of uniform, — red cap, red sash, blouse perhaps bound by red sash, brass helmet, and sword, and everybody supposed to have a pistol in his pocket. But the deep sincerity of the speakers, who are agitating social, not political questions, and who are studying how to secure a fair share of bread to every man, and to get God's justice done through the land, is very good to hear. . . . Clough, my Oxford friend, is here, and we usually dine together. . . . I have just sent my programme of lectures to London, but am not to begin until the 6th of June; thence count three long weeks for the course to fill, and I do not set out for Boston until almost the 1st of July. By that time you must make up your minds to let me come home. And I am losing all these weeks and months of my children; which I daily regret. I shall bring home, with a good many experiences that are well enough, a contentedness with home, I think, for the rest of my days. Indeed, I did not come here to get that, for I had no great good-will to come away, but it is confirmed after seeing so many of the "contemporaries."
I think we are fallen on shallow agencies. Is there not one of your doctors who treats all disease as diseases of the skin? All these orators in blouse or broadcloth seem to me to treat the matter quite literarily, and with the ends of the fingers. They are earnest and furious, but about patent methods and ingenious machines.
[This concludes the portion of the letter that Emerson wrote on May 17; he took it up again on May 24; I'll copy that segment then.
A Memoir of Ralph Waldo Emerson
1848: The Triumph and Failure of the Workers' Republic
The Revolution of 1848