Anatole France on Victor Hugo: People to substitute justice and peace for war and bloodshed
From speech delivered in Victor Hugo’s honour on the 2nd March, 1901
Translated by J. Lewis May
Citoyennes et Citoyens, on the 1st June, 1885, a bier that had rested beneath the Arc de Triomphe was escorted to the Panthéon by the people of Paris, and by representatives from the rest of France and the whole intellectual world. Along the route through which the procession passed, the flame of the lanterns swathed in crêpe glimmered tremblingly in the daylight, masts erected at regular intervals were hung with shields inscribed with the names, not of battles, but of books. For honours till then reserved for kings and emperors, for sovereigns and conquerors, were decreed by the grief-stricken multitude to a great writer and a great thinker, who had wielded no other sceptre than the power of words.
Au Penseur. To the Man of the Mind. Such were the words that were repeated again and again on the banners which followed the glorious dead. And these funeral celebrations, held not in obedience to an official degree, but inspired by a mighty way of popular feeling, marked a new era in the history of mankind. The pomp and splendour which, from time immemorial, had done honour to force and violence, were here seen for the first time attending upon the gentle puissance of the mind and celebrating a bloodless glory. Eloquent obsequies these, and a splendid symbol of the revolutionary ideal. It was a sign that henceforth the people would substitute in their hearts freedom of thought for authoritative dogma, liberty for absolute power, the insignia of reason for the insignia of force, justice and peace for war and bloodshed, and for hatred, fraternity and love.
“In the place of battles,” he cried, with the voice of a prophet, “there shall come the discoveries of science. The peoples of the earth shall dream no more of conquest, they shall grow mighty in knowledge and enlightenment. They shall be warriors no more, but workers. They shall seek and teach and invent. No more shall they glory in exterminating their fellows. The slayers shall give place to the creators.”