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By Jananan SandajeshanPublished 3 months ago 8 min read


THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE While all this was taking place on the left bank of the river, towards noon a man was noticed walking up and down the great Salles des Pas Perdus of the Palace of Justice. This man, carefully buttoned up in an overcoat, appeared to be attended at a distance by several possible supporters—for certain police enterprises employ assistants whose dubious appearance renders the passers-by uneasy, so much so that they wonder whether they are magistrates or thieves.

The man in the buttoned-up overcoat loitered from door to door, from lobby to lobby, exchanging signs of intelligence with the myrmidons who followed him; then came back to the great Hall, stopping on the way the barristers, solicitors, ushers, clerks, and attendants, and repeating to all in a low voice, so as not to be heard by the passers-by, the same question. To this question some answered "Yes," others replied "No." And the man set to work again, prowling about the Palace of Justice with the appearance of a bloodhound seeking the trail. He was a Commissary of the Arsenal Police. What was he looking for? The High Court of Justice. What was the High Court of Justice doing? It was hiding. Why? To sit in Judgment? Yes and no.

The Commissary of the Arsenal Police had that morning received from the Prefect Maupas the order to search everywhere for the place where the High Court of Justice might be sitting, if perchance it thought it its duty to meet. Confusing the High Court with the Council of State, the Commissary of Police had first gone to the Quai d'Orsay. Having found nothing, not even the Council of State, he had come away empty handed, at all events had turned his steps towards the Palace of Justice, thinking that as he had to search for justice he would perhaps find it there. Not finding it, he went away. The High Court, however, had nevertheless met together. Where, and how? We shall see. At the period whose annals we are now chronicling, before the present reconstruction of the old buildings of Paris, when the Palace of Justice was reached by the Cour de Harlay, a staircase the reverse of majestic led thither by turning out into a long corridor called the Gallerie Mercière.

Towards the middle of this corridor there were two doors; one on the right, which led to the Court of Appeal, the other on the left, which led to the Court of Cassation. The folding-doors to the left opened upon an old gallery called St. Louis, recently restored, and which serves at the present time for a Salle des Pas Perdus to the barristers of the Court of Cassation. A wooden statue of St. Louis stood opposite the entrance door. An entrance contrived in a niche to the right of this statue led into a winding lobby ending in a sort of blind passage, which apparently was closed by two double doors. On the door to the right might be read "First President's Room;" on the door to the left, "Council Chamber." Between these two doors, for the convenience of the barristers going from the Hall to the Civil Chamber, which formerly was the Great Chamber of Parliament, had been formed a narrow and dark passage, in which, as one of them remarked, "every crime could be committed with impunity." Leaving on one side the First President's Room and opening the door which bore the inscription "Council Chamber," a large room was crossed, furnished with a huge horse shoe table, surrounded by green chairs. At the end of this room, which in 1793 had served as a deliberating hall for the juries of the Revolutionary Tribunal, there was a door placed in the wainscoting, which led into a little lobby where were two doors, on the right the door of the room appertaining to the President of the Criminal Chamber, on the left the door of the Refreshment Room. "Sentenced to death!—Now let us go and dine!" These two ideas, Death and Dinner, have jostled against each other for centuries.

A third door closed the extremity of this lobby. This door was, so to speak, the last of the Palace of Justice, the farthest off, the least known, the most hidden; it opened into what was called the Library of the Court of Cassation, a large square room lighted by two windows overlooking the great inner yard of the Concièrgerie, furnished with a few leather chairs, a large table covered with green cloth, and with law books lining the walls from the floor to the ceiling. This room, as may be seen, is the most secluded and the best hidden of any in the Palace. It was here,—in this room, that there arrived successively on the 2d December, towards eleven o'clock in the morning, numerous men dressed in black, without robes, without badges of office, affrighted, bewildered, shaking their heads, and whispering together.

These trembling men were the High Court of Justice. The High Court of Justice, according to the terms of the Constitution, was composed of seven magistrates; a President, four Judges, and two Assistants, chosen by the Court of Cassation from among its own members and renewed every year. In December, 1851, these seven judges were named Hardouin, Pataille, Moreau, Delapalme, Cauchy, Grandet, and Quesnault, the two last-named being Assistants. These men, almost unknown, had nevertheless some antecedents. M. Cauchy, a few years previously President of the Chamber of the Royal Court of Paris, an amiable man and easily frightened, was the brother of the mathematician, member of the Institute, to whom we owe the computation of waves of sound, and of the ex-Registrar Archivist of the Chamber of Peers. M. Delapalme had been Advocate-General, and had taken a prominent part in the Press trials under the Restoration; M. Pataille had been Deputy of the Centre under the Monarchy of July; M. Moreau (de la Seine) was noteworthy, inasmuch he had been nicknamed "de la Seine" to distinguish him from M. Moreau (de la Meurthe), who on his side was noteworthy, inasmuch as he had been nicknamed "de la Meurthe" to distinguish him from M. Moreau (de la Seine). The first Assistant, M. Grandet, had been President of the Chamber at Paris. I have read this panegyric of him: "He is known to possess no individuality or opinion of his own whatsoever." The second Assistant, M. Quesnault, a Liberal, a Deputy, a Public Functionary, Advocate General, a Conservative, learned, obedient, had attained by making a stepping-stone of each of these attributes, to the Criminal Chamber of the Court of Cassation, where he was known as one of the most severe members. 1848 had shocked his notion of Right, he had resigned after the 24th of February; he did not resign after the 2d December. M. Hardouin, who presided over the High Court, was an ex-President of Assizes, a religious man, a rigid Jansenist, noted amongst his colleagues as a "scrupulous magistrate," living in Port Royal, a diligent reader of Nicolle, belonging to the race of the old Parliamentarians of the Marais, who used to go to the Palais de Justice mounted on a mule; the mule had now gone out of fashion, and whoever visited President Hardouin would have found no more obstinacy in his stable than in his conscience.

On the morning of the 2d December, at nine o'clock, two men mounted the stairs of M. Hardouin's house, No. 10, Rue de Condé, and met together at his door. One was M. Pataille; the other, one of the most prominent members of the bar of the Court of Cassation, was the ex-Constituent Martin (of Strasbourg). M. Pataille had just placed himself at M. Hardouin's disposal. Martin's first thought, while reading the placards of the coup d'état, had been for the High Court. M. Hardouin ushered M. Pataille into a room adjoining his study, and received Martin (of Strasbourg) as a man to whom he did not wish to speak before witnesses. Being formally requested by Martin (of Strasbourg) to convene the High Court, he begged that he would leave him alone, declared that the High Court would "do its duty," but that first he must "confer with his colleagues," concluding with this expression, "It shall be done to-day or to-morrow." "To-day or to-morrow!" exclaimed Martin (of Strasbourg); "Mr. President, the safety of the Republic, the safety of the country, perhaps, depends on what the High Court will or will not do. Your responsibility is great; bear that in mind. The High Court of Justice does not do its duty to-day or to-morrow; it does it at once, at the moment, without losing a minute, without an instant's hesitation." Martin (of Strasbourg) was right, Justice always belongs to Today. Martin (of Strasbourg) added, "If you want a man for active work, I am at your service." M. Hardouin declined the offer; declared that he would not lose a moment, and begged Martin (of Strasbourg) to leave him to "confer" with his colleague, M. Pataille. In fact, he called together the High Court for eleven o'clock, and it was settled that the meeting should take place in the Hall of the Library. The Judges were punctual. At a quarterpast eleven they were all assembled. M. Pataille arrived the last. They sat at the end of the green table.

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Jananan Sandajeshan

As a book reviewer and writer, I am dedicated to sharing my love of literature with others. I believe that books have the power to educate, inspire, and transform us, and I'm committed to helping readers find the stories that resonate most.

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