Ninety-Three by Victor Hugo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Free download available at Project Gutenberg.
Translator: Aline Delano
Release Date: July 6, 2015 [EBook #49372]
Produced by Laura N.R. and Marc D’Hooghe at http://www.freeliterature.org (Images generously made
available by the Hathi Trust – and by Gallica (Bibliothèque nationale de France) for the illustrations.)
This book has several translations but we found only this one, made by Aline Delano, to be more closer to the original French text. She also translated from the Russian the following books: “The Blind Musician” by Vladimir Korolenko; “The Kingdom of God is Within You, What is Art,” by Leo Tolstoy.
The original file was provided by Hathi Trust Digital Library.
Critical Note by Robert L. Stevenson (from “The Works of Victor Hugo, Vol. VII, Jefferson Press, 190-?)
In Notre Dame, Les Miserables, The Toilers of the Sea and The Man Who Laughs, one after another, there has been some departure from the traditional canons of romance; but taking each separately, one would have feared to make too much of these departures, or to found any theory upon what was per- haps purely accidental. The appearance of Ninety-Three has put us out of the region of such doubt. Like a doctor who has long been hesitating how to classify an epidemic malady, we have come at last upon a case so well marked that our uncertainty is at an end. It is a novel built upon a sort of enigma,” which was at that date laid before revolutionary France, and which is presented by Hugo to Tellmarch, to Lantenac, to Gauvain, and very terribly to Cimourdain, each of whom gives his own solution of the question, clement or stern, according to the temper of his spirit. That enigma was this: “Can a good action be a bad action? Does not he who spares the wolf kill the sheep?” This question as I say, meets with one answer after another during the course of the book, and yet seems to remain undecided to the end. And something in the same way, although one character, or one set of characters, after another comes to the front and occupies our attention for the moment, we never identify our interest with any of these temporary heroes nor regret them after they are withdrawn.
I was in Paris on the 10th of August. I gave Westerman a drink. Everything went with a rush in those days! I saw Louis XVI. guillotined,–Louis Capet, as they call him. I tell you he did*n’t like it. You just listen now. To think that on the 13th of January he was roasting chestnuts and enjoying himself with his family! When he was made to lie down on what is called the see-saw, he wore neither coat nor shoes; only a shirt, a quilted waistcoat, gray cloth breeches, and gray silk stockings. I saw all that with my own eyes.
“This man who is among us represents the king. He has been intrusted to our care; we must save him. He is needed for the throne of France. As we have no prince, he is to be,–at least we hope so,–the leader of the Vendėe. He is a great general. He was to land with us in France; now he must land without us. If we save the head we save all.”
’93 is the war of Europe against France, and of France against Paris. What then is Revolution? It is the victory of France over Europe, and of Paris over France. Hence the immensity of that terrible moment ’93, grander than all the rest of the century. Nothing could be more tragic. Europe attacking France, and France attacking Paris,–a drama with the proportions of an epic.
The Gironde, speaking in the person of Isnard, temporary president of the Convention, had uttered this appalling prophecy: “Parisians, beware! for in your city not one stone shall be left resting upon another, and the day will come when men will search for the place where Paris once stood.” This speech had given Birth to the Évêché.
At the time when the death-sentence of Louis XVI. was passed, Robespierre had eighteen months to live, Danton fifteen, Vergniaud nine, Marat five months and three weeks, and Lepelletier-Saint-Fargeau one day! Brief and terrible was the breath of life in those days.
Revolution is a manifestation of the unknown. You may call it good or evil, according as you aspire to the future or cling to the past; but leave it to its authors. It would seem to be the joint product of great events and great individualities, but is in reality the result of events alone. Events plan the expenditures for which men pay the bills. Events dictate, men sign. The 14th of July was signed by Camille Desmoulins, the 10th of August by Danton, the 2d September by Marat, the 21st of September by Grégoire, and the 21st of January by Robespierre; but Desmoulins, Danton, Marat, Grégoire, and Robespierre are merely clerks.
“Liberty, equality, fraternity,–these are the dogmas of peace and harmony. Why give them so terrible an aspect? What are we striving to accomplish? To bring all nations under one universal republic. Well, then, let us not terrify them. Of what use is intimidation? Neither nations nor birds can be attracted by fear. We must not do evil that good may come. We have not overturned the throne to leave the scaffold standing. Death to the king, and life to the nations. Let us strike off the crowns, but spare the heads. Revolution means concord, and not terror. Schemes of benevolence arc but poorly served by merciless men. Amnesty is to me the grandest word
in human language. I am opposed to the shedding of blood, save as I risk my own. Still, I am but a
soldier; I can do no more than fight. Yet if we are to lose the privilege of pardoning, of what use is it
to conquer? Let us be enemies, if you will, in battle; but when victory is ours, then is the time to be
Was it then the object of Revolution to destroy the natural affections, to sever all family ties, and to stifle every sense of humanity? Far from it. The dawn of ’89 came to affirm those higher truths, and not to deny them. The destruction of bastiles signified the deliverance of humanity; the overthrow of feudalism was the signal for the building up of the family.
The genius of France was made up from that of the entire continent, and each of its provinces represents a
special virtue of Europe; the frankness of Germany is to be found in Picardy, the generosity of Sweden
in Champagne, the industry of Holland in Burgundy, the activity of Poland in Languedoc, the grave dignity
of Spain in Gascony, the wisdom of Italy in Provence, the subtlety of Greece in Normandy, the fidelity of Switzerland in Dauphiny.
“Grand events are taking form. No one can comprehend the mysterious workings of revolution at the present time. Behind the visible achievement rests the invisible, the one concealing the other. The visible work seems cruel; the invisible is sublime. At this moment I can see it all very clearly. It is strange and beautiful. We have been forced to use the materials of the Past. Hence this wonderful ’93. Beneath a scaffolding of barbarism we
are building the temple of civilization.