xml/lby.00008.xml Icons of Liberty: Les Miserables

Victor Hugo , Les Miserables from Volume IV, Book VII, Chapter III, "Slang that Cries and Slang that Laughs" (1862)

Transcribed from pages 264-266 of the 1899 Little, Brown edition of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, Volume IV, Book VII, Chapter III, "Slang that Cries and Slang that Laughs." Translated by Sir Lascelles Wraxall. Originally published in 1862.



The French Revolution, which was nothing but the ideal armed with a sword, rose, and by the same sudden movement closed the door of evil and opened the door of good. It disengaged the question, promulgated the truth, expelled the miasma, ventilated the age, and crowned the people. We may say that it created man a second time by giving him a second soul,—justice. The nineteenth century inherits and profits by its work, and at the present day the social catastrophe which we just now indicated is simply impossible. Blind is he who denounces it, a fool who fears it, for the Revolution is the vaccine of insurrection. Thanks to the Revolution, the social conditions are altered, and the feudal and monarchical diseases are no longer in our blood. There is no middle age left in our constitution, and we are no longer at the time when formidable internal commotions broke out; when the obscure course of a dull sound could be heard beneath the feet; when the earth thrown out from the mole-holes appeared on the surface of civilization; when the soil cracked; when the roof of caverns opened, and monstrous heads suddenly emerged from the ground. The revolutionary sense is a moral sense, and the feeling of right being developed, develops the feeling of duty. The law of all is liberty, which ends where the liberty of another begins, according to Robespierre's admirable definition. Since 1789 the whole people has been dilated in the sublimated individual. There is no poor man who, having his right, has not his radius; the man, dying of hunger, feels within himself the honesty of France. The dignity of the citizen is an internal armor; the man who is free is scrupulous, and the voter reigns. Hence comes incorruptibility; hence comes the abortiveness of unhealthy covetousness, and hence eyes heroically lowered before temptation. The revolutionary healthiness is so great, that on a day of deliverance, a 14th of July, or a 10th of August, there is no populance, and the first cry of the enlightened and progressing crowds is, "Death to the robbers!" Progress is an honest man, and the ideal and the absolute do not steal pocket-handkercheifs. By whom were the carriages containing wealth of the Tuileries escorted in 1848? By the rag-pickers of the Faubourg St. Antoine. The rag mounted guard over the treasure. Virtue rendered these ragged creatures resplendent. In these carts, in barely closed chests,—some, indeed, still opened,—there was, amid a hundred dazzling cases, that old crown of France, all made of diamonds, surmounted by the royal carbuncle and the Regent diamonds, worth thirty millions of francs; barefooted they guarded this crown. Hence Jacquerie is no longer possible, and I feel sorry for the clever men; it is an old fear which has made its last effort, and could no longer be employed in politics. The great spring of the red spectre is now broken. Everybody understands this now. The scarecrow no longer horrifies. The birds treat the manikin familiarly, and deposit their guano upon it, and the bourgeois laugh at it.

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