Long ago, a young man, who had been a soldier under Digeon at Narbonne, spoke of him in the best possible terms, but I had never seen him, when some years ago—four or five years—I had the occasion to find myself in his company.
It was the first and last time—alas!—that I would see him. It was at a meeting, at the Salle de Bretagne, organized, I believe, by the Egalité or the Socialist League founded by that journal. Odin, Zevaco and others were to speak.
We were, some friends and I, sitting close to the stage, where the office was found, chatting, and waiting for the opening of the session. Beside me, a handsome old man, with an energetic head, deep eyes, and gray hair and beard. Someone passed, and shook his hand, saying, “Bonjour, Digeon.” It was Emile Digeon. We made his acquaintance. Someone said that it was hot.
Suddenly, Digeon paled, then fell. He was carried out, and on the following day he entered a nursing home, which he only left last march, in order to go to the cemetary.
Emile Digeon was by temperament a revolutionary par excellence, am active militant, one of those iron soldiers of whom we have only met a few in this century—these men, the likes Barbès and Blanqui, who are rare these days.
He was the soul of the Commune of Narbonne, in 1871.
Here is what Lissagaray says of him, in his History of the Commune:
“At the news of March 18, Narbonne did not hesitate. It was with Paris. To proclaim the Commune, they thought to follow Digeon, outcast from the Empire, a man of strong convictions and steady character. Digeon, as modest as resolute, offered the direction of the movement to his comrade in exile, Marcou, the recognized head of the democracy, in the Aude, one of the fiercest opponents of Gambetta, during the war. Marcou, a crafty lawyer, afraid of compromising himself and fearing the energy of Digeon, at the administrative center (Carcassonne), pushed him on Narbonne. He arrived there on the 23rd and thought first to convert the municipal council to the idea of the Commune. But the mayor, Raynal, refused to convene the council, and the people, impatient, invaded City Hall on the evening of the 24th, armed themselves with rifles that the Municipality kept, and installed Digeon and his friends. He appeared on the balcony, proclaimed the Commune of Narbonne united with that of Paris, and immediately took measures for defense.”
On the 28th, troops arrived from various sides. Digeon, who had dreamed of making the movement general, was limited to defensive action.
On the 30th, the prefect and prosecutor published a proclamation against the “seditious,” and Digeon issued his response: “Is there a reason to lower, in the face of force, this flag stained red with the blood of our martyrs?… let others consent to be eternally oppressed,” and he barricaded City Hall.
A parliamentary representative was dispatched, proposing amnesty, the evacuation of the town hall and twenty-four hours for Digeon to pass over the frontier. A meeting was held, and the offer refused. General Zentz was sent to Narbonne. On the 31st, after a first engagement, he announced that bombardment would begin.
Digeon wrote to him: “I have the right to respond to a savage threat in an analogous manner. I warn you that if you bombard the town, I will shoot the three people that I have in my power,” for he had arrested, as hostages, a captain, a lieutenant and the mayor. Some new negotiations took place, and Digeon, judging the defense useless, evacuated the City Hall and shut up alone in the mayor’s office, decided to sell his life dearly. The crowd took off before the arrival of the troops. Digeon refused to flee, and was arrested.
After a preventative detention of eight months, the accused from Narbonne appeared before the Court of Assizes at Rodez. They were acquitted.
A sympathetic population saluted Digeon his co-defendants, as they existed the court, with cries of “Long live the Republic!”
“The energetic and dignified attitude of Digeon showed, once more, the strong temper of that nature”—added Lissagaray.
Later, finding that things did not progress quickly enough, he fought only in the revolutionary vanguard, rejecting parliamentarianism, electoral action, etc.
Emile Digeon has collaborated on several journals and written various pamphlets, among them Revolutionary Remarks, which begins thus: “The principal aim of these general remarks is to answer questions, namely: 1) If it is possible to destroy social iniquity other than by revolutionary action;—2) If we can reasonable expect from any government, even a workers’ state, absolute liberty in conjunction with the abolition of the exploitation of individuals, either by other individuals, or by the social community.”
[Almanach de la Question Sociale pour 1895, pp. 106-107.
Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur.]
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