Leon Gambetta—‘ the grand orateur et homme d’Etat’.
So reads the printed label stuck on the back of this carte de visite by a French dealer sometime early in the twentieth century. It is indeed a ‘ curieuse piece ‘, as the dealer avers. Gambetta has addressed in pencil, above his printed name, the following remark to an unidentified friend or colleague:
‘Le crise dures toujours, impossible de mettre le nez dehors…’
(The crisis is lasting for ages, impossible to stick ones nose outside…)
Historians might debate what crisis Gambetta is referring to. There were doubtless several in the tempestuous political career of one of France’s greatest heroes. But the date of 12th December that Gambetta adds at the end of his message might offer a clue. In Paris from 23rd November to 15th December 1877 the improbably named President McMahon presided over a ministry that excluded all ‘parliamentary hands‘ like Gambetta and his democratic colleagues. During this period it was felt that MacMahon was planning a coup d’etat and this crisis came to a head around December 10th and 11th. The idea was to deny power to Gambetta, who may have felt that his life was in danger during this time. Excluding Gambetta worked for a few years, but eventually, in 1881, he was asked to form a ministry. This lasted for just 66 days.
Around late November 1882 Gambetta was shot in the stomach, but this was an accident. However, it may have contributed to the stomach cancer that eventually claimed his life, on 31st December 1882.