Paris has long been a powerful symbol as well as a city, and it has symbolized many contradictory things. It is the city of luxury and high glamour—“centre de luxe et des lumières,” as the anarchist P-J Proudhon called it, a city to which men were attracted by, as Gustave Flaubert wrote, “les femmes, le luxe, et tout ce que comporte l’existence parisienne.” But at the same time it is the city of revolutions, not just of the great French Revolution but of the revolutions of 1830, 1848, of the Commune of 1871, and even—perhaps a last pale reflection—of the évènements of 1968.
Lloyd S. Kramer takes the title of his study of three exiles in the Paris of the 1840s—Heine, Marx, and Mickiewicz—from the memoirs of the German radical Arnold Ruge, who on setting out for Paris, where he was joined by the young Karl and Jenny Marx, wrote in a wellknown passage:
We are going to Paris, the threshold of a new world. May it live up to our dreams! At the end of our journey we will find the vast valley of Paris, the cradle of the new Europe, the great laboratory where world history is formed and has its ever-fresh source. It is in Paris that we shall live our victories and our defeats. Even our philosophy, the field where we are in advance of our time, will only be able to triumph when proclaimed in Paris and impregnated with the French spirit.
And indeed Paris in the reign of Louis-Philippe was an extraordinary center of literary, intellectual, and artistic talent: in an appendix Kramer lists thirty-nine names of French writers, philosophers, and historians (though only one composer—Berlioz—and one painter—Delacroix) who, if not all of world class (who now reads Marie d’Agoult, or Mignet, or the official philosopher of the July Monarchy, Victor Cousin, author of Du vrai, du beau, et du bien?), nevertheless make up an impressive collection, even without the thirty-five foreign intellectuals also listed.
But however excited Marx and Ruge may have been at the prospect of the intellectual life of Paris, their reasons for going there were more specific. Paris was a place where publication would be easier and where it would be more possible to reach a wider international audience than under the eyes of the Prussian censors, as well as being a place where social thinkers were continuing the revolutionary tradition. At first, therefore, Marx was a voluntary exile, but his articles soon aroused the displeasure of the Prussian government, and at their request he was expelled from Paris in 1845. He went to Brussels, then, except for a brief return to Paris and Germany during the revolutions of 1848, to London, where his exile became lifelong.
Heine too had gone voluntarily into exile in 1831, feeling himself to be displaced in Germany—a converted Jew, with no job or money, on bad terms with his rich uncle, disappointed in love, but seeing in Paris.
the capital not only of France but of the entire civilized world…. When one considers the collection of distinguished and famous men that one finds there, Paris appears like a Pantheon of the living. They are creating a new art there, a new religion, a new life; it is here that the creators of a new world are happily at work.
And, although he was to pay short visits to Germany, Heine remained a voluntary exile until his death in 1856, fighting a continuous battle against the German censors who banned his work, against poverty, and against illness, becoming one of the most famous writers in Europe but remaining, by choice, circumstances, and temperament, an outsider.
Adam Mickiewicz, the third of Dr. Kramer’s characters, was a true political exile. The leading Polish poet of his day, deeply committed to the Polish national movement, he had already been banished by the Russian authorities in the 1820s, even before the great Polish uprising of 1830–1831. In 1831 he did not succeed in returning to Poland from Rome until the revolt was already defeated; and he was forced into exile again, settling permanently in Paris in 1832. For him Paris was the great center of international brotherhood:
By the intermediary of this great city, the peoples of Europe get to know one another and sometimes to know themselves…. The superiority of France as the oldest daughter of the Church, as the trustee of all the inspirations of science and of art, is both so evident and of such a noble character, that the other peoples do not feel humiliated to acknowledge its preeminence in this respect.
While Heine, Marx, and Mickiewicz all recognized the unique qualities of Paris, they each wanted something different from it, and their relations with French society differed accordingly. Heine needed freedom in which to be a professional writer, and an atmosphere in which he could work and at the same time criticize freely both France and, even more bitterly, Germany, to which he nevertheless remained deeply attached. “Love of the German lands begins at its frontiers and, above all, at sight of the woes of Germany in a foreign country,” he wrote. He was accepted by French intellectual and literary society: he had friends among the Saint-Simonians, the first circle in Paris that he had frequented; Balzac dedicated his novel Un Prince de la Bohème to him; he became a close friend of George Sand and a friend and literary colleague of Théophile Gautier and Gérard de Nerval. He was never free from acute financial difficulties, but he was helped to some extent by the award of a pension from the French government, although he refused an offer of French citizenship. His own attitude to the pension was characteristic: “Before getting my six thousand francs, I praised all the statesmen in Paris; since they gave me the pension I have never dared to say a word in their favor for fear of feeling bought.” Heine, in so far as he was assimilated anywhere, was assimilated into French society.
Marx’s situation was quite different. He only lived in Paris for two years, and his first purpose, as always wherever he was, was to read and write. He did however learn something of French working-class life and he was able to exchange ideas with some of the radical intellectuals in Paris, including Proudhon and the Russian exile Mikhail Bakunin. He became a friend of Heine, who is said to have rendered the Marxes a practical service: he arrived to see them one day to find their baby having convulsions, and prepared a hot bath and plunged the baby into it, effecting an instant cure. Even if their friendship became less close once they were separated and Heine’s interest in political radicalism waned, Marx’s debt to Heine is shown by the number of times he quotes his poems and by the repeated use (as S.S. Prawer has shown in detail)1 of phrases borrowed from Heine in his own works.
For Marx the time spent in Paris was of crucial importance, not just because of the new friends, rivals, and acquaintances he made—especially of course Friedrich Engels, with whom a lifelong collaboration began with several hours conversation in the Café de la Régence on August 28, 1844—but also because his writings from these years have come to be seen as central texts for the understanding of his ideas. But in addition to the intellectual stimulus that Paris provided, it was in Paris—and this is a point Lloyd S. Kramer rightly stresses—that Marx had his first experience of real live workers. He attended working-class meetings; he observed the poverty of the Parisian proletariat and developed his own theory of alienation and of the reason why “man feels that he is acting freely only in his animal functions…while in his human functions he is nothing more than an animal.”
But it was not just theoretical insight that he gained: in a passage that shows an emotional sympathy for the Parisian workers he wrote: “The brotherhood of man is not a hollow phrase, it is a reality, and the nobility of man shines forth upon us from their work-worn faces.” Kramer sees a kind of dialectic at work in Marx’s experience of French ideas and their impact on the Hegelianism that he had imbibed in Germany: “Writing in Paris Marx repeatedly turned to French thought and society to support his critique, so that the dialogue with Hegel became also a dialogue between France and Germany.” It was the kind of interaction that Kramer believes was an essential part of what he calls “the exile experience.”
Adam Mickiewicz was a true exile, forced against his will to leave Poland and living at the center of the Polish exile community in France (by the 1840s there were some 10,000 Poles in Paris). He was considered Poland’s greatest poet and his European reputation was such that George Sand could call him “the first cousin of Goethe and the brother of Byron.” His literary talents were now wholly devoted to the Polish national cause. And in Paris he was accepted in the role in which he had cast himself, as the symbol and spokesman of the oppressed Polish people, whom he regarded as “the Christ among nations” and from whom he expected the redemption of the world to spring. He was made professor of Slavic literature at the Collège de France: “You would not believe what hopes the Slavs attach to the establishment of this Chair,” he said. “They regard it as a tribune, as a flag and almost as a military post.” His lectures were popular and successful (though it must be said that they seem to have become odder and odder). Sainte-Beuve had written of one of his earlier works, “To tastes that are too often sated. It has been bread of a distinguished and acrid flavor, rather strange, kneaded in a Slavic manner,” and this flavor together with the general French enthusiasm for Poland perhaps accounts for Mickiewicz’s success.
At the Collège de France Mickiewicz was a colleague of such distinguished intellectuals as Jules Michelet and Edgar Quinet, even if Michelet was worried by his increasingly esoteric mysticism. For if Marx was absorbing the revolutionary tradition and advanced French social thought in Paris, and Heine becoming part of the Parisian literary scene and, in his political satire, abandoning the religious implications of his earlier Saint-Simonianism, Mickiewicz was unequivocally linking the Polish cause with a mystical Catholicism that at first gave him much in common with such Catholic radicals as Lamennais and Montalembert. The peculiarly Polish blend of messianic nationalism and Christianity set him apart from his French associates and admirers and must have sometimes puzzled them. While preaching the duty of the French nation to liberate Poland and accepting France’s leading role in Europe (“a principle proclaimed by the French people becomes a reality”), his lectures not only became more and more filled with messianic prophecies; they also became increasingly obsessed with the figure of Napoleon, so much so that his lectures were for a time suspended by the police. Sentiments such as “Napoleon carried in his soul the entire past of Christianity and realized it in his person”2 can hardly have pleased either King Louis-Philippe or his republican critics, though they may have contributed to Mickiewicz being appointed librarian of the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal by Napoleon III, three years before his death in 1855 from cholera while in Constantinople attempting to form a Polish legion to liberate his beloved country.
It was the quality of Parisian culture that, in different aspects, attracted Professor Kramer’s three exiles to France; but it was the social and political structure of France that provided the frame for their lives there and produced the hazards to which they were subject. The limitations on their freedom were often apparent: they were spied upon by agents of their own national police; they were, as the case of Marx shows, liable to expulsion at the request of foreign governments. In addition the social tolerance that many contemporary observers saw as characteristic of Paris had its limitations. It is true that Heine became part of the Parisian literary world, and Marx, in his much shorter stay, met Proudhon and other revolutionary thinkers (though without becoming a close friend of any of them except Engels), while Mickiewicz, though remaining profoundly Polish in his attitudes and loyalties, was, in his privileged position as a professor at the Collège de France, to some extent accepted into French society. Most foreign émigrés in Paris, however, tended primarily to associate with their fellow countrymen, as indeed Mickiewicz himself did, so that Paris, like other cities that attracted exiles in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, such as London and New York, contained a network of separate national communities.
Moreover, the political refugees were in any case only a small part of the foreign residents, and were far out-numbered by those who had come to France simply looking for work: “For most French citizens in this era,” Kramer writes, “the ‘German immigrant’ was not a writer publishing political tracts but a tailor or a shoemaker.” One would like to know more about these foreigners and the extent of their integration into French life: foreign intellectuals and artists had access to the salons of the literary coteries, but how many of the German tailors and shoemakers ever set foot inside a French home?
Restoration and Reaction 1815–1848, by André Jardin and André-Jean Tudesq, first published in French in 1973 as La France des Notables and then in a good English translation by Elborg Forster in 1983, has now been reissued as a paper-back. It provides a useful background survey in which to fit detailed studies such as Kramer’s. The book puts into perspective the tolerance that allowed foreign exiles to find a refuge in Paris and explains the limitations of such tolerance:
It was one of the positive aspects of liberalism that it fostered aspirations toward liberty. Under the Restoration and the July Monarchy France gave shelter to foreigners who fled from the oppression of their homelands…. But liberal aspirations always went beyond what governments were willing to concede.
This summarizes well the dilemma of the July Monarchy and some of the underlying causes of the revolution of February 1848. Although after 1815 some romantic conservatives still clung to the hope of a return to a prerevolutionary world, the final overthrow of Napoleon and the restoration of the Bourbons meant in practice that constitutional government had come to stay. However limited and unsatisfactory the Charter—the constitution granted by Louis XVIII in 1814—seemed to the liberals, it offered by its very acceptance the possibility of change. The problem for the conservatives was where and how to stop that change and for the liberals to decide how far and in what direction it was to go.
The revolution of July 1830 seemed to confirm the victory of a moderate liberalism: King Charles X was deposed after he had attempted to suppress freedom of the press, dissolve parliament, and limit the basis on which its members were to be elected. However, the success of the July revolution (though it was not as bloodless as sometimes supposed—eight hundred revolutionaries and two hundred soldiers were killed) and the accession of King Louis-Philippe raised the question of what French liberalism really was. As one of the revolutionary proclamations declared, “We for our part will resist [royal power] but France itself must declare how far it will carry its resistance.” The new regime was threatened by republicans on the left and legitimists on the right and, as in many subsequent regimes in France, parliamentary politics consisted in maintaining an uneasy balance between the left and right wings of the center.
Supporters of the regime saw it as the juste milieu, a society in which making money was the most important activity. The right to vote was based on a property qualification: when pressed for an extension of the franchise the government could always retort, “Enrichissez-vous et vous deviendrez électeurs!” The spirit of the July Monarchy was expressed by Guizot, the distinguished historian who became one of its leading politicians; “I want, I seek, I serve with all my strength the political preponderance of France’s middle classes.” However, as Jardin and Tudesq point out, his “formula ‘Become rich through work and saving’ was not made to inspire devotion.”
The economic and social realities of France often left these dreams of riches unfulfilled; and disappointed expectations bred discontent. Even the upwardly mobile—as readers of Balzac do not need reminding—were liable at a blow to lose their wealth through overspeculation or through the fall of an influential political protector. Social mobility carried its own dangers with it, psychological as well as practical: the novels of the period from Stendhal to Flaubert’s Education sentimentale (started in the 1840s though not published until much later) are full of the problems of ambitious young men on the make and the consequences of their ambition. Many years later the statesman Léon Blum wrote:
Stendhal is the man for periods of confusion, of social fluidity, of periods of disorder. Whenever in the formation of the character of the individual sensibilities are sharpened without discipline and without purpose, every time in the natural course of history that social classes are united on the surface and separated at their foundation, large numbers of young men will adopt the same equivocal poses when faced with the world, and will run the risk of following the same painful road.3
It is a situation not unfamiliar in the 1980s.
The “equivocal poses” of which Blum wrote were not limited to private life, and they are a characteristic aspect of France between 1815 and 1848. In politics, one has the feeling that everyone from the King down was on a stage. Louis XVIII, for example, Jardin and Tudesq tell us,
played his role as representative sovereign with consummate skill. An actor and a mime, he knew how to find the proper word with which to seduce or to blame, and he also knew how to deliver in his handsome voice the measured official speeches which he wrote himself in a polished style.
Louis-Philippe worked hard to present the image of a “citizen king” with his apparently simple habits and his virtuous family life. (Queen Victoria thought that he was “thoroughly French in character, possessing all the liveliness and talkativeness of that people.”4 He was anxious to preserve a reputation as a liberal, inherited from his father, Philippe Egalité, who had voted for the execution of his cousin Louis XVI, but who had then himself been guillotined, so that Louis-Philippe had also inherited a fear of extremism.
His reign was full of carefully staged theatrical occasions marking the continuity with previous regimes: the building of the Arc de Triomphe, which had been planned by Napoleon but never executed; the return of Napoleon’s ashes to France; the solemn interment in July 1840 at the foot of the column erected on the site of the Bastille, to the strains of Berlioz’s Symphonie funèbre et triomphale, of the ashes of those killed in the July Revolution.
There is also an air of political theater about the campaign of banquets for thousands of people which focused discontent in the months leading up to the revolution of 1848. And of course that revolution itself was a kind of replay of the great revolution, as Karl Marx realized when he wrote the famous opening sentences of The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”
By the late 1840s the sense of insecurity that had never been quite lost since 1830 intensified. Economic difficulties—a bad harvest in 1845 and a worse one in 1846, a financial crisis partly caused by over-speculation, especially in railways—contributed to a general loss of nerve. As Jardin and Tudesq put it,
Those who had a grievance (the ruined stockholders and the bankrupt merchant, the starving peasant or the unemployed worker, the arrested vagabond or the impoverished bourgeois) needed somebody to hold responsible for their misfortune. As the case might be, this could be the grain hoarder or the administrator of the railway company, the mayor, the municipal guard, the head of a manufacturing company, the banker who had refused to grant an extension of a loan, the notary who had taken advantage of the situation to buy a piece of land cheaply, and above all the king and his ministers under whose government these trials were suffered.
For a brief period the desire for political reform and the desire for social and economic change came together. The result was the February Revolution of 1848: but by June the divergent interests of the middle classes and the workers became apparent, and the gap once more opened between political liberalism and the aim of revolutionary social change. The reign of Louis-Philippe had shown the limits of French liberalism, but the degree of freedom that the liberal regime had granted made possible the development of the forces that were to challenge it.
Restoration and Reaction gives a good account of French politics between the fall of Napoleon and the revolution of 1848. What the authors have failed to do is to integrate their political history into a wider social and cultural setting. The sections on painting and music in the 1820s are simply adequate and it is incidentally an example of the speed with which taste changes that several of the painters (including Horace Vernet and Paul Delaroche) dismissed in this book, originally published in 1973, as “competent but mediocre” or “wholly forgotten today” are proudly and prominently displayed in the new Musée d’Orsay in Paris, which opened in 1986. But Jardin and Tudesq (which is it, I wonder?) simply give up when it comes to the culture of the July Monarchy. The art of the 1830s and 1840s is dismissed in one short paragraph:
Brought into being by a bourgeoisie intent upon power and profit, the developing industrial society had little use or art and literary creation and misused them by exploiting them to extol hard work and individual initiative. As a result, the artist and the bourgeois became increasingly hostile to each other…and even though some artists like Hugo and Musset were integrated into the highest ranks of society, many others were reduced to straitened circumstances or outright poverty.
It is hard to believe that this is the same world as the one Professor Kramer is writing about.
The second half of the book, “The Life of the Nation,” deals with the economic and social conditions in France region by region, though in a rather unsystematic way. The authors say that after the first part of the book “written from a national point of view” the second part is devoted to a study of provincial France. The result is perhaps two books rather than one; but the second part, which is as much geography as history, brings out well the extreme diversity of the French provinces and the differing rate of change between “a number of regional economies not all of them evolving at the same pace.” It is a France from which Paris and its preoccupations seem very remote, for all the centralization of government and the lure of a metropolis that “lived on the substance of the provinces, assimilated their people and tended to be admired by them as the very centre of culture, wealth and power.”
This survey of France is rather dry, but it contains a great deal of information—about the neighborhoods and growth of the great provincial cities, such as Lyons or Bordeaux, about the religious attitudes and political alignments in the various regions, the differing systems of land-ownership and cultivation, and so on. Occasionally the authors refer to the novelists of the period for evidence of social conditions; and it must be said that one turns gratefully to Balzac and the Comédie humaine, which, whatever the inaccuracies as a detailed source for social history that some scholars have pointed out and in spite of Balzac’s own political bias (he revised Les Chouans to fit in with his own changing views), conveys the extraordinary vitality, fluidity, variety, and color of France in the lifetime of a writer who, as one Balzac specialist remarks, died in 1850 “at the moment when the society that lives in La Comédie humaine was quietly disappearing.”5
At least since the publication of Eugen Weber’s Peasants into Frenchmen6 we have become accustomed to thinking of the French peasantry even in the late nineteenth century as a race apart, speaking a patois that the Parisian would certainly not understand and living in a countryside that in the 1830s and 1840s was only beginning to change with the development of the canal network and the construction of railways. In many regions change was very slow: in the Corrèze “one finds very few persons able to read and write or speak the French language”; in the Haute-Loire poverty “has bred not diligence but resignation, and a sustained fear of seeing any change in customs and habits that has more to do with forms of piety than with religion.” But at the same time the authors are dealing not only with what Marx called “the idiocy of rural life” but also with the rapid pace of industrialization in some areas, and the special problems of the ethnic and linguistic minorities in Alsace and Brittany, as well as such permanent factors as the climate and the terrain.
It is perhaps not their fault that this kind of survey never seems to go far enough and always seems to be breaking off in a rush to get on to the next subheading just when one is beginning to become interested. Perhaps too we have been spoiled by the number of French historians who have produced detailed studies of the social and economic life of small areas, so that the task of those who are attempting a broad synthesis becomes a difficult one. As Jardin and Tudesq themselves admit,
Although it is often difficult to pin down the convictions and the passions of the largely illiterate masses who have left little direct evidence, recent studies have brought to light marked differences in attitudes between one small area and the next.
One feels that it is with a sense of relief that they return in their last chapter to Paris, its politics, its civil servants and bankers, “gala evenings at the opera and lovely women too.” While analyzing the differences in income levels of Parisians, they still recall that Paris was “a place for intellectual encounters, with its French and foreign salons, where the ancient art of conversation had one last flowering.” We are safely back in the world that Lloyd S. Kramer describes, a world of which Heine himself once said, “When the fish in the sea ask each other how they feel, they answer ‘like Heine in Paris.’ “7
December 22, 1988
S.S. Prawer, Karl Marx and World Literature (Oxford, 1976). ↩
See J.L. Talmon, Political Messianism: The Romantic Phase (London: Secker and Warburg, 1960; Westview, 1985), p. 273. ↩
Léon Blum, Stendhal et le Beylisme (Paris, 1930), p. 313. ↩
Letters of Queen Victoria, first series, Vol. 3 (London: John Murray, 1908), p. 126. ↩
Jean-Hervé Donnard, Balzac: les réalités économiques et sociales dans la Comédie Humaine (Paris: Armand Colin, 1961), p. 233. ↩
Eugen Weber, Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870–1914 (Stanford University Press, 1976; London: Chatto and Windus, 1977). ↩
E.M. Butler, Heinrich Heine (London: The Hogarth Press, 1956; Greenwood, 1970), p. 97. ↩