Mocking Louis Phillippe in Exile (1848) | Victor Hugo

After Victor Hugo’s death, and before the publication of his letters (many of which remain unpublished), Paul Maurice published Memoirs of Victor Hugo. This was not chronological autobiography but was, as Maurice remarked,

“A sort of haphazard chronique in which only striking incidents and occurrences are brought out, and lengthy and wearisome details are avoided. VICTOR HUGO’S long and chequered life was filled with experiences of the most diverse character—literature and politics, the court and the street, parliament and the theatre, labour, struggles, disappointments, exile and triumphs. Hence we get a series of pictures of infinite variety.”

The following extract was written by Victor Hugo on 3 May 1848 and satirises the plight of the ‘poor’ French royal family who had been deposed in the French Revolution of February 1848. Victor Hugo had few kind words to say about the king.

The Orleans family in England are literally in poverty; they are twenty-two at table and drink water. There is not the slightest exaggeration in this. Absolutely all they have to live upon is an income of about 40,000 francs made up as follows: 24,000 francs a year from Naples, which came from Queen Marie Amélie, and the interest on a sum of 340,000 francs which Louis Philippe had forgotten under the following circumstances: During his last triumphal voyage made in October, 1844, with the Prince de Joinville, he had a credit of 500,000 francs opened for him with a London banker. Of this sum he spent only 160,000 francs. He was greatly amazed and very agreeably surprised on arriving in London to find that the balance of the 500,000 francs remained at his disposal.

M. Vatout is with the Royal Family. For the whole of them there are but three servants, of whom one, and one only, accompanied them from the Tuileries. In this state of destitution they demanded of Paris the restitution of what belongs to them in France; their property is under seizure, and has remained so notwithstanding their reclamations. For different reasons. One of the motives put forward by the Provisional Government is the debt of the civil list, which amounts to thirty millions. Queer ideas about Louis Philippe were entertained. He may have been covetous, but he certainly was not miserly; he was the most prodigal, the most extravagant and least careful of men: he had debts, accounts and arrears everywhere. He owed 700,000 francs to a cabinet-maker; to his market gardener he owed 70,000 francs for butter.

Consequently none of the seals placed on the property could be broken and everything is held to secure the creditors—everything, even to the personal property of the Prince and Princess de Joinville, rentes, diamonds, etc., even to a sum of 198,000 francs which belongs in her own right to the Duchess d’Orleans.

All that the Royal Family was able to obtain was their clothing and personal effects, or rather what could be found of these. Three long tables were placed in the theatre of the Tuileries, and on these were laid out all that the revolutionists of February had turned over to the governor of the Tuileries, M. Durand Saint-Amand. It formed a queer medley—court costumes stained and torn, grand cordons of the Legion of Honour that had been trailed through the mud, stars of foreign orders, swords, diamond crowns, pearl necklaces, a collar of the Golden Fleece, etc. Each legal representative of the princes, an aide-de-camp or secretary, took what he recognised. It appears that on the whole little was recovered. The Duke de Nemours merely asked for some linen and in particular his heavy-soled shoes.

The Prince de Joinville, meeting the Duke de Montpensier, greeted him thus: “Ah! here you are, Monsieur; you were not killed, you have not had good luck!”

Gudin, the marine painter, who went to England, saw Louis Philippe. The King is greatly depressed. He said to Gudin: “I don’t understand it. What happened in Paris? What did the Parisians get into their heads? I haven’t any idea. One of these days they will recognise that I did not do one thing wrong.” He did not, indeed, do one thing wrong; he did all things wrong!

He had in fact reached an incredible degree of optimism; he believed himself to be more of a king than Louis XIV. and more of an emperor than Napoleon. On Tuesday the 22nd he was exuberantly gay, and was still occupied solely with his own affairs, and these of the pettiest character. At 2 o’clock when the first shots were being fired, he was conferring with his lawyers and business agents, MM. de Gérante, Scribe and Denormandie, as to what could best be done about Madame Adelaide’s will. On Wednesday, at 1 o’clock, when the National Guard was declaring against the government, which meant revolution, the King sent for M. Hersent to order of him a picture of some kind.

Charles X. was a lynx.

Louis Philippe in England, however, bears his misfortune worthily. The English aristocracy acted nobly; eight or ten of the wealthiest peers wrote to Louis Philippe to offer him their châteaux and their purses. The King replied: “I accept and keep only your letters.”

The Duchess d’Orleans is also in straitened circumstances. She is on bad terms with the d’Orleans family and the Mecklenburg family is on bad terms with her. On the one hand she will accept nothing, and on the other she can expect nothing.

At this time of writing (May, 1848) the Tuileries have already been repaired, and M. Empis remarked to me this morning: “They are going to clean up and nothing of the damage done will be apparent.” Neuilly and the Palais-Royal, however, have been devastated. The picture gallery of the Palais-Royal, a pretty poor one by the by, has practically been destroyed. Only a single picture remains perfectly intact, and that is the Portrait of Philippe Egalité. Was it purposely respected by the riot or is its preservation an irony of chance? The National Guards amused, and still amuse, themselves by cutting out of the canvases that were not entirely destroyed by fire faces to which they take a fancy.