TO SCOFF, TO REIGN
There is no limit to Paris. No city has had that domination
which sometimes derides those whom it subjugates. To please you,
O Athenians! exclaimed Alexander. Paris makes more than the law,
it makes the fashion; Paris sets more than the fashion, it sets
the routine. Paris may be stupid, if it sees fit; it sometimes
allows itself this luxury; then the universe is stupid in company
with it; then Paris awakes, rubs its eyes, says: "How stupid
I am!" and bursts out laughing in the face of the human race.
What a marvel is such a city! it is a strange thing that this
grandioseness and this burlesque should be amicable neighbors,
that all this majesty should not be thrown into disorder by all
this parody, and that the same mouth can to-day blow into the trump
of the Judgment Day, and to-morrow into the reed-flute! Paris has
a sovereign joviality. Its gayety is of the thunder and its farce
holds a sceptre.
Its tempest sometimes proceeds from a grimace. Its explosions,
its days, its masterpieces, its prodigies, its epics, go forth to the
bounds of the universe, and so also do its cock-and-bull stories.
Its laugh is the mouth of a volcano which spatters the whole earth.
Its jests are sparks. It imposes its caricatures as well as its
ideal on people; the highest monuments of human civilization accept
its ironies and lend their eternity to its mischievous pranks.
It is superb; it has a prodigious 14th of July, which delivers
the globe; it forces all nations to take the oath of tennis;
its night of the 4th of August dissolves in three hours a thousand
years of feudalism; it makes of its logic the muscle of unanimous will;
it multiplies itself under all sorts of forms of the sublime;
it fills with its light Washington, Kosciusko, Bolivar, Bozzaris,
Riego, Bem, Manin, Lopez, John Brown, Garibaldi; it is everywhere
where the future is being lighted up, at Boston in 1779,
at the Isle de Leon in 1820, at Pesth in 1848, at Palermo in 1860,
it whispers the mighty countersign: Liberty, in the ear of the
American abolitionists grouped about the boat at Harper's Ferry,
and in the ear of the patriots of Ancona assembled in the shadow,
to the Archi before the Gozzi inn on the seashore; it creates Canaris;
it creates Quiroga; it creates Pisacane; it irradiates the great
on earth; it was while proceeding whither its breath urge them,
that Byron perished at Missolonghi, and that Mazet died at Barcelona;
it is the tribune under the feet of Mirabeau, and a crater under the
feet of Robespierre; its books, its theatre, its art, its science,
its literature, its philosophy, are the manuals of the human race;
it has Pascal, Regnier, Corneille, Descartes, Jean-Jacques: Voltaire
for all moments, Moliere for all centuries; it makes its language to
be talked by the universal mouth, and that language becomes the word;
it constructs in all minds the idea of progress, the liberating dogmas
which it forges are for the generations trusty friends, and it is
with the soul of its thinkers and its poets that all heroes of all
nations have been made since 1789; this does not prevent vagabondism,
and that enormous genius which is called Paris, while transfiguring
the world by its light, sketches in charcoal Bouginier's nose on
the wall of the temple of Theseus and writes Credeville the thief on
Paris is always showing its teeth; when it is not scolding it
Such is Paris. The smoke of its roofs forms the ideas of the universe.
A heap of mud and stone, if you will, but, above all, a moral being.
It is more than great, it is immense. Why? Because it is daring.
To dare; that is the price of progress.
All sublime conquests are, more or less, the prizes of daring.
In order that the Revolution should take place, it does not suffice
that Montesquieu should foresee it, that Diderot should preach it,
that Beaumarchais should announce it, that Condorcet should calculate it,
that Arouet should prepare it, that Rousseau should premeditate it;
it is necessary that Danton should dare it.
The cry: Audacity! is a Fiat lux. It is necessary, for the sake
of the forward march of the human race, that there should be proud
lessons of courage permanently on the heights. Daring deeds
dazzle history and are one of man's great sources of light.
The dawn dares when it rises. To attempt, to brave, to persist,
to persevere, to be faithful to one's self, to grasp fate bodily,
to astound catastrophe by the small amount of fear that it occasions us,
now to affront unjust power, again to insult drunken victory,
to hold one's position, to stand one's ground; that is the example
which nations need, that is the light which electrifies them.
The same formidable lightning proceeds from the torch of Prometheus to
Cambronne's short pipe.