My Days of Adventure / The Fall of France, 1870-71

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MY DAYS OF ADVENTURE

THE FALL OF FRANCE, 1870-71

By Ernest Alfred Vizetelly

Le Petit Homme Rouge

Author of “The Court of the Tuileries 1852-70” etc.

With A Frontispiece

London, 1914

THE PEOPLE’S WAR

  O husbandmen of hill and dale,

    O dressers of the vines,

  O sea-tossed fighters of the gale,

    O hewers of the mines,

  O wealthy ones who need not strive,

    O sons of learning, art,

  O craftsmen of the city’s hive,

    O traders of the man,

  Hark to the cannon’s thunder-call

    Appealing to the brave!

  Your France is wounded, and may fall

    Beneath the foreign grave!

  Then gird your loins! Let none delay

    Her glory to maintain;

  Drive out the foe, throw off his sway,

    Win back your land again!

1870. E.A.V.

PREFACE

While this volume is largely of an autobiographical character, it will be
found to contain also a variety of general information concerning the
Franco-German War of 1870-71, more particularly with respect to the second
part of that great struggle—the so-called “People’s War” which followed
the crash of Sedan and the downfall of the Second French Empire. If I have
incorporated this historical matter in my book, it is because I have
repeatedly noticed in these later years that, whilst English people are
conversant with the main facts of the Sedan disaster and such subsequent
outstanding events as the siege of Paris and the capitulation of Metz,
they usually know very little about the manner in which the war generally
was carried on by the French under the virtual dictatorship of Gambetta.
Should England ever be invaded by a large hostile force, we, with our very
limited regular army, should probably be obliged to rely largely on
elements similar to those which were called to the field by the French
National Defence Government of 1870 after the regular armies of the Empire
had been either crushed at Sedan or closely invested at Metz. For that
reason I have always taken a keen interest in our Territorial Force, well
realizing what heavy responsibilities would fall upon it if a powerful
enemy should obtain a footing in this country. Some indication of those
responsibilities will be found in the present book.

Generally speaking, however, I have given only a sketch of the latter part
of the Franco-German War. To have entered into details on an infinity of
matters would have necessitated the writing of a very much longer work.
However, I have supplied, I think, a good deal of precise information
respecting the events which I actually witnessed, and in this connexion,
perhaps, I may have thrown some useful sidelights on the war generally;
for many things akin to those which I saw, occurred under more or less
similar circumstances in other parts of France.

People who are aware that I am acquainted with the shortcomings of the
French in those already distant days, and that I have watched, as closely
as most foreigners can watch, the evolution of the French army in these
later times, have often asked me what, to my thinking, would be the
outcome of another Franco-German War. For many years I fully anticipated
another struggle between the two Powers, and held myself in readiness to
do duty as a war-correspondent. I long thought, also, that the signal for
that struggle would be given by France. But I am no longer of that
opinion. I fully believe that all French statesmen worthy of the name
realize that it would be suicidal for France to provoke a war with her
formidable neighbour. And at the same time I candidly confess that I do
not know what some journalists mean by what they call the “New France.” To
my thinking there is no “New France” at all. There was as much spirit, as
much patriotism, in the days of MacMahon, in the days of Boulanger, and at
other periods, as there is now. The only real novelty that I notice in the
France of to-day is the cultivation of many branches of sport and athletic
exercise. Of that kind of thing there was very little indeed when I was a
stripling. But granting that young Frenchmen of to-day are more athletic,
more “fit” than were those of my generation, granting, moreover, that the
present organization and the equipment of the French army are vastly
superior to what they were in 1870, and also that the conditions of
warfare have greatly changed, I feel that if France were to engage,
unaided, in a contest with Germany, she would again be worsted, and
worsted by her own fault.

She fully knows that she cannot bring into the field anything like as many
men as Germany; and it is in a vain hope of supplying the deficiency that
she has lately reverted from a two to a three years’ system of military
service. The latter certainly gives her a larger effective for the first
contingencies of a campaign, but in all other respects it is merely a
piece of jugglery, for it does not add a single unit to the total number
of Frenchmen capable of bearing arms. The truth is, that during forty
years of prosperity France has been intent on racial suicide. In the whole
of that period only some 3,500,000 inhabitants have been added to her
population, which is now still under 40 millions; whereas that of Germany
has increased by leaps and bounds, and stands at about 66 millions. At the
present time the German birth-rate is certainly falling, but the numerical
superiority which Germany has acquired over France since the war of 1870
is so great that I feel it would be impossible for the latter to triumph
in an encounter unless she should be assisted by powerful allies. Bismarck
said in 1870 that God was on the side of the big battalions; and those
big battalions Germany can again supply. I hold, then, that no such
Franco-German war as the last one can again occur. Europe is now virtually
divided into two camps, each composed of three Powers, all of which would
be more or less involved in a Franco-German struggle. The allies and
friends on either side are well aware of it, and in their own interests
are bound to exert a restraining influence which makes for the maintenance
of peace. We have had evidence of this in the limitations imposed on the
recent Balkan War.

On the other hand, it is, of course, the unexpected which usually happens;
and whilst Europe generally remains armed to the teeth, and so many
jealousies are still rife, no one Power can in prudence desist from her
armaments. We who are the wealthiest nation in Europe spend on our
armaments, in proportion to our wealth and our population, less than any
other great Power. Yet some among us would have us curtail our
expenditure, and thereby incur the vulnerability which would tempt a foe.
Undoubtedly the armaments of the present day are great and grievous
burdens on the nations, terrible impediments to social progress, but they
constitute, unfortunately, our only real insurance against war, justifying
yet to-day, after so many long centuries, the truth of the ancient Latin
adage—Si vis pacem, para bellum.

It is, I think, unnecessary for me to comment here on the autobiographical
part of my book. It will, I feel, speak for itself. It treats of days long
past, and on a few points, perhaps, my memory may be slightly defective.
In preparing my narrative, however, I have constantly referred to my old
diaries, note-books and early newspaper articles, and have done my best to
abstain from all exaggeration. Whether this story of some of my youthful
experiences and impressions of men and things was worth telling or not is
a point which I must leave my readers to decide.

E.A.V.

London, January 1914.

CONTENTS

I. INTRODUCTORY—SOME EARLY RECOLLECTIONS

II. THE OUTBREAK OF THE FRANCO-GERMAN WAR
III. ON THE ROAD TO REVOLUTION
IV. FROM REVOLUTION TO SIEGE
V. BESIEGED
VI. MORE ABOUT THE SIEGE DAYS
VII. FROM PARIS TO VERSAILLES
VIII. FROM VERSAILLES TO BRITTANY
IX. THE WAR IN THE PROVINCES
X. WITH THE “ARMY OF BRITTANY”
XI. BEFORE LE MANS
XII. LE MANS AND AFTER
XIII. THE BITTER END
INDEX

MY DAYS OF ADVENTURE

I

INTRODUCTORY—SOME EARLY RECOLLECTIONS

The Vizetelly Family—My Mother and her Kinsfolk—The Illustrated Times

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