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In the following May (1846), the prince's desire to see his father before he died led him to meditate an escape from the durance of his prison. This was no easy task, as the walls of the fortress of Ham are high, and surrounded by a fosse, and at the time of which we speak were guarded by four hundred men, sixty of whom in turn stood sentry day by day outside its walls. Moreover, the chief gate was guarded by three jailers, two of whom were on constant duty. In order to escape, it was necessary first to elude their vigilance ; then to pass through the inside court, under the windows of the governor's house ; and lastly, to pass through a gate well guarded by soldiers. The prince, however, shall tell the story of his escape in his own words. He writes :
'Not wishing to communicate my design to any one, it was necessary to disguise myself. As several rooms in that part of the prison which I occupied were under repair, it was not difficult to assume the dress of a workman. My good and faithful valet, Charles Thélier, procured a smock-frock and a pair of sabots; and after shaving off my moustaches, I took a plank on my shoulders.
On Sunday morning I saw the workmen enter at half-past eight o'clock. Charles took them some drink, in order that I should not meet any of them on my way. He was also to call one of the turnkeys, whilst Dr Conneau conversed with the others. Nevertheless, I had scarcely got out of my room before I was accosted by a workman, who took me for one of his comrades; and at the bottom of the stairs I found myself in front of the keeper. Fortunately, I placed before my face the plank which I was carrying, and succeeded in reaching the yard. Whenever I passed a sentinel or any other person, I always kept the plank before my face.
'Passing before the first sentinel, I let my pipe fall, and stopped to pick up the bits. There I met the officer on duty; but as he was reading a letter, he paid no attention to me. The soldiers at the guard-house appeared surprised at my dress, and a chasseur turned round several times to look at me. I next met some workmen, who looked very attentively at me. I placed the plank before my face, but they appeared to be so curious, that I thought I should never escape, until I heard them say: “Oh! it is Bertrand !”
Once outside, I walked quickly towards the road to St Quentin. Charles, who had the day before engaged a carriage, shortly overtook me, and we arrived at St Quentin. I passed through the town on foot, after having thrown off my smock-frock. Charles procured a post-chaise, under pretext of going to Cambrai. We arrived, without meeting any obstacles, at Valenciennes, where I took the railway. I had procured a Belgian passport, but I was nowhere asked to shew it.
‘During my escape, Dr Conneau, always so devoted to me, remained in prison, and caused them to believe that I was unwell, in order to give me time to reach the frontier. Before I could be persuaded to quit France, it was necessary that I should be convinced that the government would never set me at liberty, if I would not consent to dishonour myself. It was also a matter of duty that I should exert all my efforts in order to be enabled to solace my father in his old age.
It is impossible to speak too highly of the devotion of the prince's medical attendant, Dr Conneau, who, by feigning the continued illness of his illustrious patient, gained for him time to make good his escape beyond the French frontiers ; and not content with this service, voluntarily remained in the prison, ready to bear his share of punishment, when he might have walked out free. He was tried for complicity in the escape of his charge, but was acquitted, the government probably not wishing to enforce a penalty against one who, if he had erred, had erred right nobly.
Having once gained the Belgian territory, the prince took ship for England. Foiled by the escape of the noble prisoner of Ham,' the French government had the meanness to use its influence to prevent him from seeing his dying parent ; and the Austrian ambassador, who likewise represented Tuscany at St James's, was instructed to refuse him the necessary passports. His venerable parent, therefore, was robbed of the solace of a last sight of his son, and thus far the immediate object of the prince's escape from Ham was frustrated.
What we have said, however, by no means applies to the remoter consequences of his escape, which before long made themselves felt through the length and breadth of France, although the prince continued for nearly another two years to make England his home, dividing his time between London and a country place which he hired near Sevenoaks, in Kent, and patiently waiting the turn which events should take in that native land to which he always turned his eyes. He had not very long to wait.
In February 1848 the government of Louis Philippe was overthrown, after a few days, or rather a few hours, of insurrection, by the indignation of the people whom it had failed to conciliate. We need not repeat here the story of the outbreak: how barricades were suddenly thrown up in the streets of Paris, the National Assembly broken up, the government declared to be at an end, and Louis Philippe only too glad to find himself able to effect his escape in disguise to the coast, and to land as an exile on those very shores to which in effect he had confined the prince whom he dreaded as the one formidable rival of his throne. The prince was in London; but he lost no time in making up his mind to go where duty called him. The 24th of February was the great day of the revolution; Louis Napoleon was in Paris on the 28th, in spite of the sentence of proscription against himself and his family being still unrepealed. He proceeded to pay his respects to the Provisional Government such as it was; but finding that his presence was likely to prove an embarrassment, he at once withdrew from the city, and returned to London. Always the friend and supporter of order and law, in the following April he gave a new pledge of his opposition to the views of the friends of anarchy, by enrolling himself as a special constable on an occasion when it was expected that the peace would be broken in the streets of London by organised bands of agitators.
A proposal was now made in the National Assembly of France to repeal the proscription against the Bonaparte family, with the single exception of the prince himself. This led to a strong protest from the prince, who wrote to the Citizens Representatives' asking the grounds of this invidious distinction, adding: 'The same reasons which have made me ere this take up arms against the government of Louis Philippe, would lead me, if my services were required, to devote myself to the defence of the Assembly, as being the result of universal suffrage. . .... In the presence of the national sovereignty I cannot and will not claim more than my rights as a French citizen; but these I will ever demand with an energy which an honest heart must desire, from the knowledge that it has never done anything to render it unworthy of its country.'
The fact is that men of every shade of opinion were agreed in one point, that of opposing the one man who was the special object of their fears, and whose independent position made him the antagonist of all petty intrigues and sectional maneuvres. In spite of the proscription which stood still unrepealed, the prince had been elected as their representative by several important constituencies; and it was not until Paris had been sickened of the anarchy and bloodshed which came to a head in the Red and Socialist insurrection of the following June, when Cavaignac and Lamartine, the former as 'dictator,' and the latter by his magic eloquence, helped to calm the storm, that any chance seemed to be offered to the prince to return to Paris.
In the following September, five different departments returned Louis Napoleon as their representative, by majorities so emphatic that it was impossible any longer to enforce the proscription against him. He took his seat in the Assembly on the 26th of the same month; and after two months wasted in the struggles of party against party, the conviction gradually forced itself upon the minds of all that his name was the only one which offered a chance of annihilating discord by reconciling parties and interests. From being, therefore, an outcast and proscribed citizen, to use a common phrase, he had rapidly become a necessity;' and when it was resolved that a president of the republic should be chosen in the following December, the choice of the people, whose votes were given by universal suffrage, fell on him by an overwhelming majority; the issue of the voting was as under: Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, 5,434,226; General Cavaignac, 1,448,107 ; M. Ledru Rollin, 370,119; M. Raspail, 36,900 ; M. A. de Lamartine, 17,910; General Changarnier, 4790. This response of the people of France to the name of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte was rendered the more emphatic by the fact that Cavaignac was regarded as the official' candidate, and that his respected name and the fresh memory of his recent services as president of the council and dictator must have secured to him many votes. But Louis Napoleon was looked upon as the living embodiment of a principle-a principle for which he had lived and had suffered—the principle of which his name was the symbol, and which, it was clear, was still as deeply rooted as ever in the affections of the people of France.
In his new capacity as President of the new republic, he never compromised the opinions which he had ever avowed by deed or word. His opinion was unchanged that the imperial system, with an imperial head, was the best system for France. But he had found a republican form of government established; and his real and sincere desire was that this form should be administered in its integrity, irrespective of factions and parties. He called on all Frenchmen who loved their country to unite in promoting the stability and prosperity of the republic ;' but he felt, and he told the Assembly that this result never would or could be attained unless the person intrusted with the chief authority should be honestly and heartily supported by the leading members of their body. It was in vain to administer a republic, if Orleanists, and Legitimists, and Socialists were allowed each to pull in a different direction. It was in good faith that Louis Napoleon promised his adhesion to the republican experiment; and long and hard were his struggles to effect the fulfilment of the conditions under which he had accepted the office of president; and it was only when his exertions failed, and it was shewn by experience that some higher and stronger sanction than that of the presidential chair was needed in order to control the eccentricities of individuals and the strife of parties, which had been largely fostered by the clubs, that he resolved on following another course.
For two years, however, this chaotic state of things continued ; and even after the election of a new chamber, the Prince President found it a most difficult task to give unity to its counsels, or to hold rival parties in check. He therefore now commenced a series of tours in the provinces, in each of which he shewed himself to the people as the advocate of sound social measures, and anxious to redress all local grievances, and to develop the internal resources of the country. These tours brought out more and more strongly the popular sentiments in his favour as the true representative of the national glory. Meantime, the Socialists and the clubs were not idle in their work of sowing dissensions, and perplexing the president of the newly chosen chamber, in the hope of driving him to throw down the reins of state, and to allow them to go on in their anarchical designs. This state of things reached its crisis early in 1851, when the systematic opposition of conflicting parties, and the menacing
attitude assumed by General Changarnier, as commander of the army of Paris, in whom were centered the hopes of the Bourbons and Orleanists, brought matters to a 'dead-lock;' and, to add a fresh source of complication, it was announced that in the following year the Prince de Joinville, one of the sons of the exiled king, Louis Philippe, would be set up against the president as a rival candidate for the chair, with the programme of war to the knife against England. The Socialists, too, it was known, were looking forward to the presidential election of 1852 as a convenient opportunity for overturning society at large.
It would be impossible, within the space of this paper, to give an account of the successive steps by which the president of the republic was led to seek the realisation of his favourite theory in his own person, and to exchange the chair of a president for the crown and the throne of an emperor. The factions and intrigues of the last three years had taught him that the republic was a 'delusion and a sham,' or, at all events, that it contained within itself no element of permanence; and that, in reality, however grandly the name of a republic might sound, it was as contrary to the genius as to the desires of the heart of France as a nation. It was also growing clearer to him day by day that his own power as president was far from sufficient to restrain the various discordant elements that were at work within the state, and, in fact, that it was morally impossible to reach the end of his term of office as president without a fresh outbreak and fresh bloodshed. Having cherished, though in vain, a hope of ruling France, as a republic, in a way conducive to its real interests,' we may suppose him to have said to the French people, 'I have found that I am myself mistaken, and that that form of government is not acceptable to the nation; I therefore throw myself again upon you; I ask you to restore France to that condition in which she stood under the first Empire. I firmly believe the policy of that Empire to be the only one under which France can reach the highest degree of prosperity, and accomplish her high destiny. If such be your opinion too, let that Empire be restored. I do not wish to represent any faction or party in the state ; my aim is to be the representative of France in its entirety. I place my hopes, my intentions, my desires, in your hands; and if it be your will that the Empire should be restored, and in my person, then I believe that she will rise to a higher prosperity than she has as yet attained; and that the nations of Europe will be found to acquiesce in your decision.'
This was, in effect, the appeal which Louis Napoleon made to the French people. The result was that by an almost unanimous vote he was raised to the Empire ; and if there be any one man of whom it can ever be said that he represents a nation, it must be owned that that man is Louis Napoleon. This was shewn by the coup d'état, for which he has been so severely criticised. At the commencement of December, it was clear that the French