The Great Man of the High Assembly
Foreword to the catalog of the Maison Littéraire de Victor Hugo
Victor Hugo is the most famous and widely read French writer in the world. We will not be surprised that beyond our borders, foreigners who admire our culture pay homage to this great lyric in exhibitions or museums. On the other hand, it is rarer and more moving that our foreign friends want to exalt the glory of Hugo on our own soil. However, this is what the Japanese have chosen to do in France.
Mr. Daisaku Ikeda, who chairs a large association in his country, has restored a castle not far from Paris, whose guests had a great reputation. Our national poet was the most illustrious. In this property, Mr. Daisaku Ikeda created the « Literary House of Victor Hugo ». On behalf of the Senate of France, I salute this noble initiative and this fascinating museum.
We, Senators, have the best reasons in the world to be sensitive to it, because Victor Hugo is also the Great Man of the High Assembly, and surely the most famous of all those who sat in its hemicycle. It is so true that a century ago, the Senate decided to honor Victor Hugo by dedicating to him, near the Salle des Séances, one of the most beautiful salons of the Luxembourg Palace. The bust of the poet dominates there.
The parliamentary career of our Great Man took place, for the most part, in our Palace. From 1845, the « Viscount Hugo », as he liked to sign, was named « Pair of France » by King Louis-Philippe. He is a man of heart who soon ascends the rostrum of the Upper House, and who immediately finds admirable accents in favor of the oppressed.
The Revolution of February 1848 made the Viscount a deputy. Hugo discovers his republican vocation. It will assert itself more and more and will earn the poet a twenty-year exile, after the coup d’etat of December 2, 1851, perpetrated by Louis-Napoleon. This coup, Hugo had foreseen it.
A decided supporter of bicameralism, Hugo had refused to vote for the Republican Constitution of November 4, 1848, because it did not include an Upper House. On November 5, Hugo wrote in Le Moniteur: « The institution of a single assembly seems to me so perilous for the tranquility and prosperity of a country, that I did not believe I could vote for a Constitution where this kind of calamity is deposited. I deeply hope that the future will prove me wrong. » What lucidity!
After the fall of the Second Empire, the constitutional laws of 1875 reestablished a Senate. At the first elections in January 1876, Clémenceau, on behalf of the Paris City Council, proposed that the poet be elected on the Republican list. And Victor Hugo will be Senator of the Seine until his death in 1885.
The Senate paid another exceptional tribute to Victor Hugo, by placing a plaque in our Sessions Room on the desk which was that of the poet, before being that of Clémenceau.
During his last decade, anxious to put an end to the tragedies of the Commune, Hugo never ceased to claim from the tribune the “justice of forgiveness”. Among the treasures of its archives, the Senate keeps the original text, retouched by the author himself, of the first of the pleas he delivered on May 22, 1876, for the amnesty of the Communards. A moving correction sums up the whole philosophy of this speech, after having dictated: « France opens its arms, saying… », Hugo finds the words he needed and adds them in his own hand: « I only know one more thing is that you are all my children! the rest I forgot. »
The Literary House of Victor Hugo created by Mr. Daisaku Ikeda is dedicated to Victor Hugo, man of letters. I thought it appropriate to recall what memory the poet has also left in our political and parliamentary history.
President of the Senate
from 1968 to 1992