(The Irish Citizen, September 10, 1870.)
This may possibly be an end, and if it is, we care not, of the “Second Empire.” The proper and only competent judges of that question are the French people; and it is a fickle and restless people. Notwithstanding the prosperity and general well-being of the French in these last twenty years; in spite of their rapidly increasing wealth and luxury, or perhaps, in consequence of these very things – the French wanted, about this time, a new excitement and sensation. Von Bismarck and Von Moltke were the very men to furnish this needful stimulant. They also required a new European conquest, as the Prussian monarchy periodically does require; so covered France with spies; spies at the Press and in society; spies in the Emperor’s Cabinet and military staff, until they knew in Berlin every gun, every fort, the depth of every moat, the capacity of every inn and stable in the whole Empire, especially on the frontier, from Basle to Recroy; knew it all far better than the Quartermaster-General of the Imperial Forces knew it; and when all was ready they slapped the Emperor on the face. Perhaps he might have taken it; he is an old and broken man and feels more keenly than anybody else in the world that he is no warrior. But France could not take it; the thing was too palpable, too ostentatious. There could be no mistake that here was a moral defiance; if the poor decrepit Emperor could have endured the provocation, his people could not; and it has been better for him to fall into the hands of King William than into the hands of the French.
It is sad to have to speak harshly of an unfortunate man, now a prisoner of war, and suffering the agony of his position with all the acuteness and intensity of his highly intellectual and imaginative nature; but better do justice upon one man than do injustice to a grand nation of men.
The Empire is at an end; no galvanism nor art-magic can bring it to life again. But the Empire is not France. France is not conquered, and is only now fairly beginning the war. A nightmare has lain for some years upon the heart and body of the great nation, and is now shaken off. King William and the Count von Bismarck are going to see at last what sort of enemy they have roused up. English and American newspapers tell us, of course, that Paris must surrender; that Strassburg, and Montmédy, and Metz, and Toul, and Verdun, and Phalsbourg, the fortresses which are holding out so gallantly, must now be given up; that Paris must be starved out in a few days, and that there are not in all France either soldiers, or arms, or generals, to bar the triumphal march of the Prussians from one end of France to the other.
It is strange how men forget history. Once before, when France was stripped naked, without an army, without generals or arms, armies grew out of the earth – armies were made as they were wanted, and generals sprang from the ranks, such as Hoche and Moreau, and the First Napoleon himself, who so handled the raggled and barefooted conscripts that they trashed all the royal armies from one end of Europe to the other. Once more France is roused – she is full of wealth and of brave men; it is not one campaign that can conquer the great nation. The blood of France is up; she will make King William welcome to the possession of her ex-Emperor, and even of his son – poor little fellow! – but, before France is conquered, the Elbe and the Spree will see the bear-skins of the Imperial Guard.