Jules Vallès 1879

To Arthur Arnould, Editor of La Marseillaise

Source: Les Enfants du Peuple. Paris, La Lanterne, 1879;
Written: May 17, 1870;
Translated: from the original for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2011.

My Dear Friend:

It is you I went looking for at the beginning of our lives when I got involved in some quarrel or suffered some misfortune in battle. You bandaged my wounds, arranged duels, and it was you I was with on December 2.[1]

I always counted on your advice and your praise.

We have taken different roads in the same profession, you more wise, me more mad. Silence bores me. Today we find ourselves in the middle of the camp. I don’t know if you feel wounded and sad; as for me, I'm full of melancholy.

Two months ago, just two months ago, I was full of hope. Today I am afraid and we, who had no youth, we are going to slide down the downward slope of life without a single ray of true liberty falling on our already-gray heads.

But for all that we shouldn’t lay down our flag, and even if I wanted to be indifferent I couldn’t be. But I don’t know how to do things half-way and I see that it will be a long time before bold men have the chance to triumph, or at least to die well.

And so I prefer to emigrate.

It costs me to go way: I would still like to strike the anvil.

But the hammerhead weighs 50,000 silver livres, and every time we raise our arms we have to hammer a sou against the sleeve. I am too poor.

I could write alongside you at the “Marseillaise,” but I left there one evening too sad. The next day I wrote the same letter to Rochefort that Flourens did, Flourens who is now in exile.

I am free.

Free to measure my prison; free in my poverty to speak neither of the dearness of rent or the price of bread; to speak neither of the one who deserts or of the other one who denounces. Free under a law that hangs over my head like a knife.

I already placed myself under that guillotine and I have cuts on my neck. I had to do this, because the people needed to hear our cries of pain. There are a few of us who woke the crowd from its sleep and awakened the human conscience, but we too have today been laid low, our tongues, feet, and hands tied.

And so, dear Arnould, the passionate and violent Vallès you knew is now a hermit.

He’s going to write on cheap paper not plebian declarations, but simple, peaceful things that won’t frighten jailers. He won’t push the people to hatred and, garroted, keep on fighting.

I did this at the moment I thought it had to be done. But now that though they are vanquished the people are still standing, it is for him to march alone. Personalities must be effaced

For me, leaving aside the whip of the pamphleteer, putting off the rebel’s drum, I am going to try to write day by day the history of the crowd. I will speak like a witness, without anger or hatred.

I will do useful work, and there will be a place for passion in this life of a chronicler of the streets.

I love the people; I have worker’s blood in my veins.

I remember that on days of implacable poverty I found my ease in the homes of the poor. The woman of the house told me to take another piece of meat. Once when I brought you 100 sous to the rue Laharpe it was 7:00; you hadn’t eaten anything. Well I can tell you today that it was the coal merchant of the neighborhood, who was from my home town, that loaned me the money.

I love the people and they feel the same, at least a little. Many blackened hands have shaken mine in the working class faubourgs, and there are children in Belleville who say to me, “Bonjour Citizen Vallès.” This gives me more pleasure than the most praiseful article that has ever been written about me. For these dear kids, their honest mothers, and their brave fathers I must resign myself to stifling my cries of a wounded man and silence the suffering I feel as one of the vanquished.

I need courage, and it’s in order to give myself some that I've told you all this.

I had a vow to take. In order to be sure I took it I wanted to take it before the man I esteem the most in the world.

And now, wish me good luck.

1. Date of Napoleon III’s coup d'état in 1851.