La Barrière du Combat

The title of La Barrière du Combat, a short 1852 work by Ernest Coeurderoy and Octave Vauthier, at first appeared a bit of a mystery to me. It is an attack on various figures associated with the radical left in the French Revolution of 1848, an account of “the last great assault which has just been engaged between the citoyens Mazzini, Ledru-Rollin, Louis Blanc, Étienne Cabet, Pierre Leroux, Martin Nadaud, Malarmet, A. Bianchi (de Lille) and other Hercules of the north.” It was apparently written before many of those figures, and the authors, ended up in exile in England, following the coup of Louis Napoleon:

This was written long ago. The slight impact made by the manifestos of Mazzini, Ledru, L. Blanc and their companions had at first discouraged us from publishing it.

After the meeting of the outcasts of the Seine, who had taken refuge in London, which took place on June 13, we could no longer hush up what we believed it useful to say.

It’s pretty scathing stuff, apparently inspired by the inability of the promoters of the various “socialist unions” to engage in much unity. There seems to have been enough frustration to go around, since Leroux, one of the targets of La Barrière du Combat, had similar things to say about the exiled “phantoms” in The Beach at Samarez. Max Nettlau began his biographical sketch of Coeurderoy with a brief mention of La Barrière and Dejacque’s funeral oration for Louise Julien as “two events, quickly covered with a veil of silence,” which “keenly struck the exile community in London.”

But what about that name? The Barrière du Combat is one of several names for the Pantin barrière, a toll gate in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, which was ultimately ruined during the siege of the Paris Commune. The title suggests more general readings, perhaps, although I haven’t found any that seem likely as legitimate translations. But I did find some interesting material about “the Combat,” which seems to explain things. Until 1833, the Pantin barrière was the site of les combats des animaux, a sort of Roman circus where Parisians could see animal battles and other bloody amusements. I was even able to find an early 19th century English account of the spectacle that gave Couerderoy and Vauthier their title.



Our neighbours in France occasionally rate us, and not wholly without reason, for our passion for animal combats; but, in reality, these things take place as frequently at their side of the Channel as ours. We shall translate one out of five hundred bills of this description, and leave it to our readers to decide between the polished Parisians and the unpolished men of the Fives Court:—
“The Sieur Gerot, successor to the Sieur Mouroy, proprietor of the establishment hitherto known under the denomination of the Combat des Animaux, has the honour of informing the public, that his exercises will take place every Sunday and holiday.—To please the public, to promise little, to keep what is promised, and to surprise agreeably.
“To-morrow, Sunday, the 8th of May, 1825, will be a grand combat of a young and vigorous bull. This furious animal, without equal for agility and ferocity, will be attacked vigorously by dogs of the greatest force and first-rate shape, who will relieve one another turn about. Messieurs the amateurs, and also the bourgeois, will have the liberty of letting loose their dogs against the indomitable animal.
“The hear of Poland, lately arrived at the menagerie of the Combat du Taureau, and who has never appeared or fought in the arena. This young and vigorous animal will fight for the first time.
“The famous wild boar of the Black Forest will be hunted and pursued by dogs trained to this kind of exercise.
“The wolf of the forest of Ardennes will fight, and be hunted and pursued, in an astonishing manner.
“The combat will be concluded by the raising of the famous bull, dog (in the original Bouldogue) ‘Maroquin,’ so well known for the force of his jaw, to more than fifty feet high, in a brilliant firework of a new and very extraordinary nature.
Les Fanfares, sporting airs suitable to this kind of amusement, will be performed turn about.
“Price of admission.—Pit 75c. (7 1/2 d.);
Amphitheatre, 1 fr.; Boxes, 2 fr. The office will be opened at two o’clock, and the diversions will commence at five. In case of bad weather the whole place is covered. Bear’s grease is sold for the cure of rheumatic pains, freckles, and other complaints. Sieur Gerot sells and buys all sorts of dogs for the protection of country and town houses, cures them of sickness and wounds, and takes them to keep. Tickets once taken, the money will not be returned. Children under seven years of age will only pay half price. A great battle every Monday.”
The delicacy and humanity of all this is quite “refreshing;” and the day on which it was to take place, Sunday, is equally laudable. In another of these bills we find the following assurance, which must be highly satisfactory to Messieurs the amateurs—”Nothing shall be neglected to render the combat obstinate.”
The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction. VI (1825) 359-360.
About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.