"Dr. Halliday Sutherland is a born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better” – G.K. Chesterton
In preparation for his trial, Halliday Sutherland travelled to Paris. Whilst there, he almost met an untimely end in the Rue Bonaparte.
To bring or defend an action for libel in the English courts is an expensive luxury, and it would be well if our law could be altered to that of France, where no one can obtain damages for libel unless able to prove damage. A thirty-minute consultation with an eminent leader of the Bar, not afterwards in the case, cost me thirty guineas. Every week-end I was needed in London. Counsel advised that we should go to Paris for evidence that in France birth-control had become a menace to the nation, and that the advocacy of contraception was there a criminal offence.
To this end I obtained an introduction from the French Embassy in London to the Minister of the Interior. Together with my friend the journalist, and a doctor who knew French, we went over to Paris. Lest any good, kind person should think this was a joy trip, I may add that my friends paid their own expenses, that we travelled second-class, and stayed in a small hotel near Ste Sulpice.
On my first morning in Paris, Death missed me by a yard. At 9 a.m. the three of us were walking down the Rue Bonaparte, a quiet narrow street with high houses on either side. We crossed from the pavement on the right to that on the left. My friends had reached the pavement and I was a few paces behind. A dull thud behind me caused me to turn round. In the street at my feet lay an elderly, shabbily dressed man, and beside him was a little tricycle van. The van had stopped, and the boy who had been pedalling was crying. It seemed inconceivable that the little tricycle had knocked the man down. When I knelt to examine him I found his skull smashed, some of the brain showing in the right temporal region, and bleeding from the nose and ears. He was breathing, but dying. A black-bearded priest crossed the street, knelt, held a crucifix before the man’s fast-glazing eyes, gave conditional absolution, and went on his way. A crowd gathered and speculated.
“He jumped from a window into the street.”
“He was thrown out of a window.”
“A bomb!” and the crowd drew back.
On the street, two yards from the man’s body, I saw a black eight-inch bomb. I lay on the street beside the corpse. If the thing exploded there was less chance of my being hit. Next moment a posse of police arrived on cycles. The sergeant picked up the bomb, and policemen dashed into doorways on either side of the street. On looking at the man the sergeant remarked, “Il est fautou” (meaning, done in), and explained that the bomb was a “buile,” a heavy shot which, attached to a wire, is lowered by sweeps down the circular iron chimneys of Paris. It had been dropped on a high roof, rolled down the slates, fallen into the street, and killed the man. In the name of the prefect the sergeant thanked me for what I had done, although I had done nothing.
Continuing on our way I reflected that some family in Paris had lost their bread-winner, a poor man without a collar and whose watch-chain was of brass. They would find him sooner or later in the morgue. It might have been me! At the end of the Rue Bonaparte is a church, and we entered for a minute to say Thank You.
The three of us went on to the National Provincial Bank in the Place de l’Opera, where I wished to exchange an English five-pound note. On handing the note to a clerk he looked at it and beckoned to a colleague. They both looked at it, and one said: “There is blood on this note. Will you show us your hands?” I showed my hands, and on the palms there was blood. Fortunately my doctor friend was almost bi-lingual, and everything was explained at once.
After a wash we went to the Ministry of the Interior and saw one of the under-secretaries. Contraception was to France a greater danger than Germany. Prior to 1914 the ten departments with the lowest birth-rate were becoming depopulated because their death-rate was higher than their birth-rate! Then came the War, and 1,175,000 men were dead. The French Government had now discovered that most contraceptives were imported from Germany. It was a plot. The French are great believers in plots, the English are not, perhaps because they are not given to plotting. In the afternoon we saw Professor Paul Bureau, who wrote L’Indiscipline des Mœurs. He was a member of the Paris Bar, and agreed to give evidence at my trial.
Our dinner that night ended with Tarte Mirabelle which is the Queen of Tarts, and worth the fare to Paris. Sweet cherries and their sauce on crisp brown pastry that crumbles and melts in the mouth. It is so good that only a gourmand would add Crême Chantilly. After dinner we sat outside the Cafe de la Paix, and watched the world on the pavement, including a demi-mondaine whose hair was dyed green. Chacun à son goût.
“Have you seen the report of the accident in the evening paper?” asked the journalist.
“No, let’s see it.”
“I haven’t got it here, but I think that priest must have written it.”
“Nonsense,” I said, “who ever heard of a priest reporting street accidents?”
“I’m sure the priest wrote it.”
“Well, the paragraph described the accident, and ended by saying that a priest arrived too late to do any good and a doctor to do any harm.”
(from “A Time to Keep” by Halliday Sutherland).
One can still enjoy the Café de la Paix in Paris (see: http://www.cafedelapaix.fr/uk/index.php).
Photo credit: By Wikimedia Commons / Mu (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)