Charles Keller, “A Memory of the ‘Marmite’” (1913)


A Memory of the “Marmite”

            My dear Guillaume,
You asked me for a few lines about Eugène Varlin, for the Vie Ouvrière.
No one is my ready to honor the memory of that noble champion of the International; but in order to speak of him in a way that will interest the readers, I would have had to know him as a close friend. That was not the case with me.
My friend Aristide Rey introduced me to him, toward the end of 1869, as a member of the Marmite, the cooperative restaurant that Varlin had just established with some comrades, in the Rue Larrey.
As a member of the International, I had taken part, in September 1868, in the Congrès de la Paix at Berne, at which the members of the Second Parisian Commission of the International, at that moment detained at Sainte-Pélagie (Combault, Malon, Varlin, Lanxdrin, etc.), had sent, by a well-known address, the expression of their sympathies. Brought by Rey to the gathering held at the Hôtel de l’Ours, I had signed, with Bakunin, Elisée Reclus, Rey, Jaclard, Joukovsky, Fanelli, Friscia, etc., the Declaration of the minority and joined the Alliance. In 1869, Bey had made me aware of the secret organization that had formed among the militants of the International from various countries. In 1870, I was part of the Commission of Statistics named by the Federal Council of Paris, with P. Robin, Bachruch, Mangold and Langevin, and we attempted, following the new legal dissolution of the International (third trial, July 5), to continue the work that had been begun, despite the magistracy of the Empire.
At the beginning of the war, I had returned to Mulhouse, which I had left September 16 to join a company of francs-tireurs[irregular troops], from which I passed to the 1re Légion des mobilisés d’Alsace-Lorraine. After that corps was dismissed, I returned to my family, and for various reasons, I was not able to return to Paris until May 10, 1871. I found the Commune in complete disarray. I took part in the fighting of the bloody week among the fighters with bare arms of Delescluze, and I was wounded Thursday defending the barricade of the Château-d’Eau.
But let us return to the Marmite. I have preserved an excellent recollection of it. The meals we took there were modest, but well prepared, and gaiety reigned around the tables. The guests were numerous. Each went to find their own plates in the kitchen, and wrote the price of the dish on the check-sheet that they gave, with their money, to the comrade charged with receiving them.
Generally, we did not linger, and, in order to leave place for others, we left as soon as our appetite was satisfied.
Sometimes, however, some closer comrades prolonged the session, and we talked. We also sand. The fine baritone Alphonse Delacour told us of Pierre Dupont, the Chant des Ouvriers, the Locomotive, etc. Citizen Nathalie Le Mel did not sing; she philosophized and resolved the great problems with an extraordinary simplicity and ease. We all loved her; she was already the doyenne. I have learned with joy that she is still faithfully at her post, and I salute her with all my heart, in the name of the old crowd at the Marmite, and in associating her with the homage that you are about to render to the heroic memory of Eugène Varlin.
Ch. Keller.

La Vie ouvrière, revue syndicaliste bi-mensuelle, May 5, 1913

Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur

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Independent scholar, translator and archivist.