|About the Book|
- This edition has been extensively annotated with footnotes. Labouchère wrote in English, but much of his reporting naturally contains French usage that has long ceased to have any meaning to a modern reader, as well as classical Latin and Greek references that may have been familiar to a contemporary audience but are certainly not today.The radical journalist Henry du Pré Labouchère was variously the Liberal member of Parliament for three different constituencies, a London theatre impresario, and, incongruously, a diplomat- that career came to an abrupt end when he cheerfully asked for a more agreeable posting than the one offered, and resigned in disgust at the refusal.Labouchère had an eye for a story, and a deft hand with which to write it, so it is hard to credit his claim that being caught in Paris during the siege was an accident. Almost three weeks elapsed between Napoleon IIIs defeat and capture at the Battle of Sédan in September 1870, and the Prussian army encircling the city, more than enough time to escape the chaos and misery about to descend.With bemusement he reports the political manoeuvrings, bureaucratic muddle and delusional optimism of the Second Empires death throes. The decadence and corruption of the French elite, and the incompetence of the military, contrast sharply with the suffering of the common citizenry, but in five long months very few people emerge with credit from Labouchère’s withering gaze and lacerating wit.He used any means possible to send out his reports to the Daily News, which were re-printed as Diary of The Besieged Resident In Paris on his return to England. By and large this meant hot-air balloons, and although many were shot down or intercepted by the Prussians, his readers were made painfully aware of the privations within the city walls.The siege was the culmination of the Franco-Prussian War, by which Bismarck was able to proclaim the German Empire, in January 1871. This of course proved to be a critical moment for Europe, but Labouchère’s journal is not a political essay, and nor is its historical context especially important. It’s a human story, of the feckless population of a proud city gradually succumbing to overwhelming power.In spite of the impression that Paris did little to avert disaster, and that the siege lasted so long through Prussian caution rather than Parisian defiance, it would be a hard heart indeed that could feel no sympathy for the manner of its fall, and Labouchères tour de force captures that sentiment to perfection.