- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
The Prince, Paris,
On September 24, 1848, a short, modest-looking man wearing middle-class dress stepped from a train onto the platform at the Paris "embarkation point" of the Northern railway. He was returning from exile, and his name was Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte. The embarkation point has since become the Gare du Nord, while the main courtyard running along its front side is today called the Place Napoléon III. Here began the incredible adventure through which Louis-Napoléon, the proscribed Napoléon III, was transformed into the "emperor of the French people." Seven months earlier, on February 24, 1848, Louis-Philippe had in turn been forced into exile by the popular uprising that instituted the Second Republic, and in his London refuge he had perhaps come across the pale figure of the young Louis-Napoléon, then scraping a dubious living as general factotum for a rich lady. But whereas the one had been pondering the collapse of his reign, the other had lived in constant hope that a few twists of fate would carry him to France on the lofty march to power.
Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte stood in the legislative elections of September 17, 1848, which the Second Republic expected to be free and democratic and to ground it upon a new legitimacy. The prince, as the election law allowed, presented himself in five départements: Seine, Yonne, Charente-Inférieure (today's Charente-Maritime), Corsica (where the imperial blood would tell), and Moselle. This multiple candidacy indicates how little chance he thought hehad of being elected: the French people did not know him; he was still subject to the exile order that Louis-Philippe had imposed on all members of the Bonaparte family; and a long-distance campaign from London seemed hardly likely to yield a favorable outcome. In the end, however, a virtual landslide in each of the five departments made of him the people's chosen representative.
Exactly one week after the elections, the future Napoléon III was back in Paris. He had been there very little since childhood—just three or four times, and then only passing through. He still did not know whether he would be able to settle there for good, both because of the banishment order of 1832 and because he had no assurance that his fivefold election would be ratified. He stayed temporarily with one of his supporters, then moved to the Hôtel du Rhin, in the rue de la Paix, where he left his office on the mezzanine in the charge of the faithful Mocquard and took up residence on the first floor. Here he arranged his library of history books, military works, and treatises on political economy. One long roll of parchment seemed especially precious: it was a map of Paris, with zebra stripes of red, green, blue, and yellow that appeared to have been drawn at random.
In fact, there was nothing random about the composition of that document; for years Louis-Napoléon had had the aim of restoring Paris to its imperial splendor. Soon after the son of Napoléon I, the Duke of Reichstadt, l'Aiglon, had died in 1832, Louis-Napoléon himself—the son of Louis Bonaparte and Hortense de Beauharnais, born on the night of April 20-21, 1808, in Paris and the first of the emperor's nephews—began to put himself forward as the successor to the empire of the Bonaparte family. On October 30, 1836, to shouts of "Vive l'Empereur!" he and his friend Fialan de Persigny, who called himself the Count of Persigny, tried to raise the Strasbourg garrison with the complicity of one of the city's artillery commanders, General Vaudrey. The attempted coup came to an abrupt and inglorious end, and Louis-Napoléon was placed under arrest. To avoid the media impact of a major trial, Louis-Philippe shipped him off to New York on November 21, but it was not long before he was back on European soil. First he went to Switzerland, to be with his dying mother in Arenenberg, then settled in London to prepare a new rising which, he was sure, would be backed by elements of the French army nostalgic for the empire. One of his English friends said at the time: "Nothing can dissuade him that he will one day be Emperor of the French.... He constantly thinks of what he will do when he is on the throne."
The stage for Louis-Napoléon's second attempt was Boulogne-sur-Mer, on August 5, 1840. Once more the military coup was a failure, but this time Louis-Philippe reacted vigorously. The prince was brought before the Chamber of Peers, which on October 6, 1840, sentenced him to life imprisonment in a fortress of the realm. According to press reports, he stated to the court clerk who read the sentence: "Monsieur, in France nothing is for life." The prince was interned in the fort at Ham, in Picardy, where he was able to read, study, work, and publish. His time there—at the "University of Ham," as he later joked—was an intense period when his ideas acquired their final shape and the prisoner forged his image of a national savior. He had already published his Idées napoléoniennes in July 1839, and 1844 saw the appearance of L'Extinction du paupérisme, his most important work. Louis-Napoléon had a feel for the arresting formulation. Declaring himself a firm supporter of universal suffrage, he expressed his confidence in a top-down reformism driven by a real leader with extensive powers: "Today," he wrote, "caste rule is finished; it is possible to govern only with the masses." Or again: "The working class owns nothing; it must be given some property."
Early in 1846, the prince asked to be allowed to visit his ailing father, the one-time King Louis of Holland, so that they could spend his final days together in his Tuscan retirement. When the government of Louis-Philippe refused permission, Louis-Napoléon felt he had no option but to escape. On May 25, having shaved off his beard and mustache, he dressed himself in the clothes of a workman, Badinguet, shouldered a wooden plank, and calmly walked out of the fort to catch a train to Brussels, then the boat to England. By May 27 he was back in London, accompanied by the dog he called ... Ham. Without a safe-conduct pass he could not make his way to Tuscany. His father's death there, on July 24, 1846, left Louis-Napoléon the first of the Bonapartes, the official claimant to the succession.
The escapee from Ham, not in the least discouraged by the successive failures at Strasbourg and Boulogne, continued to prepare determinedly for his accession to power in France. His father's legacy saved him from financial disaster, and his liaison with the wealthy Miss Howard in London gave him the means to pay spies, journalists, and associates. Imbued with the socialistic philosophies of the age, and especially with the optimism of the Saint-Simonians, he dreamed of initiating major projects to create jobs and riches, of spreading progress through the development of industrial civilization. In L'Extinction du paupérisme he had written: "My friends are in the workshops." The prince sincerely wished to improve the workers' lot by eliminating the plague of unemployment and by raising wage levels. He was close to the high-minded men of the left who took power in February 1848—those who established national workshops to give work for all in the construction of a progressive future, and who, on May 3, 1848, issued a decree for large-scale municipal works in Paris. Louis-Napoléon did not, however, approve of their methods. While still in exile, he saw France as "a powerful country, full of wealth and resources but wretchedly governed." It would be hard to say he was wrong, given the spectacle of the badly organized and unmanaged national workshops that were sinking into anarchy. Starvation riots broke out in Paris and were followed by the bloody repression of the June Days of 1848, when the bourgeois order shot the workers en masse in the popular districts of the capital.
June 1848 opened a fast route for the political ambitions of Louis-Napoléon. The prince had one element of superiority over the dreamers who were steering the country so badly: he believed in the virtues of organization. He was also convinced that the main problem facing France was the problem of Paris, of that effervescent, industrious city where misery existed side by side with luxury, and where the location of public buildings within a tangled web of narrow winding streets placed government at the constant mercy of the rifle. Three months later he was triumphantly elected.
Napoléon III has been a little-loved figure in histories of France. The coup d'état of December 2, 1851, the fall of the empire in 1870 amid military defeat and the Prussian amputation of Alsace-Lorraine, the lampooning and abuse directed at him by such talented figures as Henri Rochefort and Victor Hugo—all this left an image of "Napoléon le Petit" as a prototype of the unscrupulous and unintelligent adventurer, an idiot who did France nothing but harm. His ability to remain in power for so long (from 1848 to 1852 as president of the Republic, then until 1870 as emperor) did not prevent French historians—ever since the military disaster at Sedan—from presenting his regime as a mere (though utterly dire) historical parenthesis. Only since the early 1960s has the Second Empire been given fresh attention and, in some cases, fresh appraisal. Historians, politicians, and public opinion have acquired a taste for the people and things of that age. Haussmann's urban projects, treated for decades as mindless butchery of the charming old city of Paris for no other purpose than the crushing of the working class, are again becoming an object of study and reflection, sometimes even a model.
The plan that Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte brought in his luggage to Paris on September 24, 1848, was a set of notes for his refurbishment of the capital, the four colors—red, green, blue, and yellow—corresponding to the urgency of various points in the program. Its guiding principles were intended to meet the requirements of movement, public hygiene, and elegance. When one thinks of the determination and the precise thinking that must have gone into the plan, one cannot fail to be amazed by its excessive and slightly deranged quality, as if it belonged more to the dream world.
This feeling of disbelief, combined with the discrediting of the historical figure, explains why the role of Napoléon III himself in the transformation of Paris has been so often debated, challenged, or quite simply denied. We speak of "Haussmann's grands travaux," never of "Napoléon III's grands travaux." Victor Hugo ridiculed the emperor's supposed ignorance of the geography of Paris—and, of course, before his return in 1848 the prince's life had been almost entirely that of an exile. In Choses bien vues, published much later when he was himself an exile fighting the imperial regime, the famous writer even related: "Louis Bonaparte knows so little about Paris that, the first time I met him, at the de la Tour d'Auvergne, he said to me: 'I've looked for you a lot. I've been to your old house. So what is this Place des Vosges?' 'It's the Place Royale,' I replied. 'Ah! Is that an old square?'"
Historians have emphasized the decisive role of Eugène Deschamps, head of the Plan de Paris (the official survey department), in tracing the new thoroughfares, or of Fialin de Persigny (minister of the interior under Napoléon III) in financing the projects—and later of Adolphe Alphand in relation to parks and plantings, Eugène Belgrand in relation to water services, or indeed Haussmann himself, as organizer and person in overall charge of coordinating the travaux. It is also true that the transformation of Paris had been on the agenda for a number of decades, and that the men of the 1848 revolution had already energetically promoted large-scale public works. But although the prince president—later Napoléon III—benefited from the experience of a huge number of previous studies, plans, and actual operations, it was still he who gave shape to a veritable program, chose the people to implement his "plan for the embellishment of Paris," and overcame the opposition and obstacles in its path.
Haussmann, in his Mémoires, could not have been more explicit on this point. On June 29, 1853, the very day on which he was sworn in as prefect for the Seine department at the château de Saint-Cloud, Napoléon III hastened to take him into his study and to unveil his plans for the capital. These were summarized in "a map of Paris on which he had himself traced, in blue, red, yellow, and green according to their degree of urgency, the various new thoroughfares that he intended to have built." A few pages further on, Haussmann adds a comment that clearly shows the degree of the emperor's involvement in the work of transformation: "Alone, I should never have been able to pursue, nor especially to fulfill, the mission he demanded of me, and in the accomplishment of which his growing trust gradually left me greater freedom of decision. I should never have been able to wage a successful fight against the difficulties inherent in each operation; against the ill will arising from sincere convictions or from base and unavowed, yet implacable, jealousies within the great bodies of state, the government, and His Majesty's own entourage; against the open attacks from parties hostile to the imperial regime which, while not daring to target the political direction impressed on the country by the sovereign, tried to combat it indirectly in the municipal undertakings dependent upon his initiative and inspiration; unless I had really been the expression, organ, or instrument of a great idea conceived by him and for which I should give him the principal merit—an idea whose implementation he promoted at every moment with a firmness that never failed. All the opponents of this idea, acting in good faith or not, personified it in myself and so today I must recall that I was only the one who carried it out."
This passage should not be ascribed to the pen of a prudent courtier, since Haussmann's Mémoires were first published in 1890, long after the death of Napoléon III, at a time when the only flesh and blood in the Bonapartist myth was a cousin of the late emperor for whom Haussmann felt both hatred and contempt. In that fin de siècle, when the Third Republic was paying open homage to the Paris prefect, Haussmann, no paragon of modesty, might quite easily have claimed the paternity that everyone awarded him. Why, then, should we not believe him when he says that it was Napoléon III alone who conceived and impelled the great enterprise? A similar view was expressed by another contemporary witness and participant in the venture, Charles Merruau, who was appointed general secretary of the Seine prefecture following the coup d'état of December 2, 1851, and remained in that post until his appointment to the municipal council in 1860. In his Souvenirs, first published in 1875, two years after the death of Napoléon III, Merruau writes: "The broad guidelines and the system [of the transformation of Paris] were already fixed in the prince's mind during the days of his presidency."
The speech that Napoléon III gave at Paris City Hall in December 1850, when he was still only Prince Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, president of the Second Republic, resonates as a declaration of faith: "Paris is the heart of France. Let us put all our efforts into embellishing this great city, into improving the lot of those who live in it. Let us open new streets, let us clean up the populous districts that lack air and daylight. Let the beneficial light of the sun everywhere penetrate our walls." Should we be surprised at this expression of interest in the modernization of Paris? All the sovereigns who ruled France, as well as the successive presidents of the Fifth Republic, have considered that the state bears a special responsibility in the affairs of the capital. Almost uninterruptedly for more than 175 years, from 1800 through to the law of December 31, 1975 and the municipal elections of 1977, the Paris administration was placed under a special regime that made the prefect of the Seine department the true mayor of the city.
Excerpted from Haussmann by Michel Carmona. Copyright © 2000 by Librairie Arthème Fayard. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|Part I||A Dedicated Administrator|
|1||The Prince, Paris, Haussmann||5|
|2||Haussmann Before Haussmann||13|
|3||Subprefect in the Age of the Bourgeois King||31|
|4||The End of Louis-Philippe's Reign||46|
|5||First Steps in the Second Republic||52|
|6||Prefect for the Var||72|
|7||From Auxerre to Bordeaux||88|
|Part II||Paris, the City with all the Problems|
|8||The Frenetic Growth of a Capital||113|
|9||The Splendor and the Squalor||126|
|10||The Transformation of Paris: The Curtain Rises, 1849-1853||149|
|Part III||Prefect for the Seine|
|11||Paris Gets a New Prefect||169|
|12||Haussmann in Control||192|
|13||Friends and Enemies||205|
|14||The First New System||216|
|16||The 180-Million-Franc Agreement||281|
|17||Incorporation of the Suburban Communes and the Third System||308|
|19||The Lion Grown Old||368|
|20||The Ends and the Means||385|
|23||The Golden Age of Real Estate||417|
|24||"An Epoch in the History of City Planning"||432|
|Appendices||Maps of Paris||440|